Joys of Cooking
Takeaways from TICTeC; saving the Internet (again!); and more
This is civic tech: (and public interest tech and responsible tech): With the help of social network mapper Marc A. Smith, here’s a fresh look at how—at least via Twitter—the three related fields show up online in the last month or two.
Here’s a great write-up by Derek du Perez of the opening remarks at TICTeC from Dr. Rebecca Rumbul, the head of research at MySociety. Titled “The Third Age of Civic Tech,” Rumbul argued that after a first phase of techie-driven experimentation and a second of more knowledge curation and institution-building, the field is now going through a reassessment, including looking at its original priorities with fresh eyes.
Here’s a report from TICTeC by Natalie Leal on the role of civic tech in France’s “grand national debate,” where the Macron government launched an interactive platform that has received nearly two million responses to channel public concerns in the wake of the Gilets Jaunes protests.
CitizenLab’s Karel Verhaeghe had these seven key takeaways from TICTeC.
Erhardt Graeff, a longtime friend of Civic Hall’s who is now a professor at the Olin College of Engineering, writes for the Scholars Strategy Network about his research evaluating how the civic tech platform SeeClickFix has succeeded in empowering its users by giving them a voice in local governance. Surveying 9,000 SeeClickFix users, he found that when local authorities quickly fixed problems highlighted, users’ sense of their governments’ efficacy went up. But instead of increasing their own sense of efficacy, the platform tended instead to attract users who already felt they could solve problems and needed a tool to amplify their efficacy. Thus Graeff notes, “Research shows that people who are non-whites and have lower socio-economic statuses also tend to register lower levels of internal political efficacy. These are exactly the citizens who need more responsiveness from government, yet they may be less likely to seek out civic engagement platforms that will increase and improve their political representation. To ensure that the entirety of a given community benefits from a new technological solution, SeeClickFix and other civic technologies must develop strategies to reach and serve those who might be less likely to look for and adopt new tools without extra outreach and encouragement.”
Jason Hibbetts of OpenSource.com and the Engaging Local Government Leaders network explains why he goes to the Code for America Summit every year: “It’s where I return each year to recharge by civic tech batteries, learn, and network with other leaders shaping the civic tech movement.”
Say hello to D-Lab, short for Digital Democracy Lab, a new effort aimed at supporting innovators for digital democracy in Ukraine.
Tech and politics: The House Communications and Technology Committee is meeting this morning at 10am ET to vote on the Save the Internet Act, which BoingBoing’s Jason Weisberger writes is “the best bill we have to restore net neutrality.” You can watch the hearing live here.
The Democratic group Tech for Campaigns finds that spending on digital advertising was only about 2.7-5.1% of total campaign budgets in 2018.
Life in Facebookistan: Debra Cleaver of Vote.org takes to her Facebook page to complain (unironically and vehemently) that she is fed up with waiting nine days for Facebook to approve her organization’s voter registration ads. It’s worth noting that Vote.org is a 501c3 nonprofit and that Facebook lets the group run fundraisers on the platform, but because of its own new rules governing political ads, lots of organizations are being caught in a confusing snarl.
Medium matters: Ev Williams’ seductively simple blogging platform Medium has gone through at least seven pivots, and as Laura Hazard Owen exhaustively documents for NiemanLab, despite raising $132 million in venture funding, it’s still not profitable. Worse, it’s been a wrecking ball for lots of intriguing publishing start-ups and editing careers. (As one wag, Will Oremus, commented in 2017, “‘Jerking around publishers until you find something that works’ seems like a flawed business model.” And look at that, two years later, Oremus tweets that he’s going to work for Medium as a senior writer for its new tech and science publication.)
Privacy, shmivacy: In the Guardian, James Vlahos offers an excellent overview of how virtual assistants, and your kids toys, record and retain information. But notice how the goalposts have moved. He uses the fact that search engines retain all your queries to justify similar voice archiving practices, when in reality the reason search engines retain all your queries is because they are run by surveillance capitalists (except for DuckDuckGo), not because they’re inherently necessary to making a search engine.
Food for thought: As a new wave of tech IPOs hit Wall Street, consider this commentary from investment banker Matt Levine in Bloomberg on Pinterest’s public offering: “Pinterest “has mostly avoided the proliferation of conspiracy theory and extremist content on its platform,” because it is a normal business and most normal businesses are not actually vectors for conspiracy theories and extremism. Pinterest is where you go to, like, collect style ideas and decorating inspiration and recipes. The Joy of Cooking doesn’t have a chapter about how vaccines cause autism, and neither does Pinterest. Other social networking websites have more grandiose visions: They are not normal businesses, but universal platforms meant to connect the world and encompass all human activity, much of which turns out to be terrible.” (Also, read down to the end of Levine’s column for a hilarious prediction of what will happen when AIs join corporate boards.)