First Post



The civic features of mainstream apps; the growing balkanization of the global internet; and more.

  • This is civic tech: And it’s a big deal, too. Months of concerted effort catalyzed by Code for America has resulted in California’s Department of Social Services revamping its IT procurement process to allow a more agile and iterative approach to building the state’s new Child Welfare System. Dan Hon, CFA’s content director, explains the whole story in detail.

  • Microsoft Civic’s Matt Stempeck (a denizen of Civic Hall) has started a new Tumblr tracking the “Civic Features” of mainstream apps. Examples include Facebook letting users know when their account may be targeted by state-sponsored actors, Google responding to searches related to being pimped with information about the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, and Bing pushing book searchers to public libraries. (This builds on the “we need apps to be more civic, not more civic apps” theory of Nick Grossman.)

  • Here’s Mark Headd of Accela building on Tom Steinberg’s musings on tech that changes power relations, arguing that open data is an example of a technology whose power increases as it becomes more widely adopted.

  • Opening government: Advocates for greater transparency and accountability in government are celebrating yesterday’s corruption conviction of New York state’s former assembly speaker Sheldon Silver, and there is a delicious irony buried in this story by Vivian Yee and Nate Schweber for the New York Times on the jury deliberations. Silver’s defense attorneys had argued that nothing he did—including steering $500K in state money to a longtime crony, who then referred some of his patients with potentially profitable legal claims to law firms that paid Silver millions in legal fees—was illegal, and that in fact this was just business as usual in Albany. (Yes, that was their defense.) The last juror to hold out on a guilty verdict wasn’t convinced this pattern of transactions was “scheming or manipulation” until she noticed that the name of one of the law firms was hidden in Silver’s legislative financial disclosure forms. “I was wondering, why wouldn’t it just be out in the open just like the other things, why was this kind of hidden,” she recalled later. Within the hour, the jury had reached its unanimous verdict. Those of us with long memories recall that it was Silver’s failure to be fully transparent on his annual disclosure forms that got federal investigators interested in him in the first place. The next time you hear someone say that increased transparency doesn’t help with fighting corruption, ask them if they know how Silver was caught.

  • Nicholas Merrill, the first American to fight and defeat a National Security Letter issued to him by the FBI, has now won the right to discuss the details of that order openly, Kevin Gosztola reports for Shadowproof.

  • Trump watch: Former Harvard Kennedy School professor and ex-Los Angeles Times deputy publisher Nicco Mele (who is still very much a PDM friend) gives his “7 reasons why Trump will win” Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s a pretty solid summary, combining everything from the Perot precedent to the ways new media have elevated the politics of the moment, to the value of making politics seem fun (to alienated white people).

  • Prompted by a tweet from Revolution Messaging’s Michael Whitney (who is working on the Bernie Sanders president campaign) digging political platform vendor NationBuilder because Donald Trump’s campaign is using it, NationBuilder CEO Jim Gilliam responds: “I thought the freedom to assemble + petition government (the 1st Amendment) was a progressive value.” (In case you doubt the NationBuilder-Trump connection, this tweet from a Trump staffer makes it explicit.)

  • Weather patterns: Yale sociology professor Justin Farrell handcoded information on 4,556 individuals from 164 organizations identified as climate change contrarians and their funding sources, and found that those who received funding from ExxonMobil or the Koch family network were more successful at getting their viewpoints into mainstream media, Bloomberg Business’ Eric Roston reports.

  • Whither the open internet: University of Kentucky law professor Andrew Keane Woods warns, in this New York Times oped, against the growing balkanization of the global internet as more countries chafe against limits that American law puts on their requests for data on crime suspects that may sit on American servers.