The need for deep, sustained coverage of the super-rich; the seduction of always-on ambient surveillance; and more.
oday’s civic-tech must-read: Joshua Tauberer, a 15-year veteran of open government platform-making (he runs GovTrack.us), has posted a well-reasoned rant explaining why people trying to fix democracy with new tech tools or platforms are almost universally going to fail. IMHO, Tauberer is a bit too harsh, but he is right to argue that most people approach this arena with little sense of how hard or expensive it is to make a dent in the problem
Related: Longtime press critic Michael Massing takes note of recent efforts by the New York Times to cover the “one percent,” like a front-page story focused on the 158 families that have given nearly half the money raised by presidential candidates, but argues that more such attention is needed. He writes:
In American journalism as a whole, the coverage of the superrich is far too sporadic, fleeting, and unimaginative to make a real difference. News organizations need to develop a new methodology that can allow them to document the structure of wealth, power, and influence in America—to show how the ultrarich make their money, what they do with it, and to what effect. The coverage needs to be more sustained, ambitious, and broadly conceived. And digital technology can help.
Massing points to some exemplars (without hyperlinks in the original, though—what’s up with that, New York Review of Books editors?): “Muckety, along with three other eye-on-the-elite groups, LittleSis, SourceWatch, and RightWeb, are all useful, but they are underfunded, overmatched, and (at times) ideologically oriented. A new site with an experienced staff of reporters, editors, and digital whizzes could burrow deep into the world of the one percent and document the remarkable impact they are having on so many areas of American life. As information on them is gathered, it could be incorporated into a database that could become the go-to site for information about the nation’s elite and their power.” Of course, such a site would cost a bit of money to create. Where might such money be found?
This is civic tech: Our Jessica McKenzie reports on the launch of NYC Councilmatic, an open government platform built by (Civic Hall member) David Moore of the Participatory Politics Foundation that stands on the shoulders of earlier versions built by civic hackers in Philadelphia and Chicago.
Making All Voices Count has announced 50 semi-finalists for its global call for innovative approaches to governance issues. “We’re seeing more local-level use of technology, from radio programmes connecting women to their members of parliament on a regular basis, to parents sending SMSs to a public dashboard that tracks whether teachers turn up at their local school,” the group notes.
Keep calm and carry on: Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com says it’s too early to take Donald Trump’s front-runner status seriously, because “most people aren’t paying all that much attention to the campaign right now.” According to his analysis of Google search data from 2008 and 2012, interest in the primaries doesn’t really start to peak until a week or two before Iowa’s caucuses.
Brave new world: ShotSpotter, an expensive technology that uses net-connected microphones to pinpoint the location of gunshots in urban environments, could help authorities know, as quickly as possible, when a possible terrorist attack is happening, Christopher Mims writes for the Wall Street Journal. The company has recently announced a deal with General Electric that would piggyback on its new “smart” LED lights that are laden with motion, sound and video sensors. Ahh, the seductions of “always-on” ambient surveillance…
An FAA task force studying drone policy has recommended that registration of pilots be mandatory for anyone flying a unmanned aircraft weighing more than half a pound, Joshua Goldman reports for CNET.