On the Mark

Accessible tech; Markup revived; Tinder for organizing; and more.


  • This is civic tech: AccessMap is an AI-powered online travel planner built on top of OpenSidewalks, which logs the physical features of sidewalk infrastructure, to help people with disabilities plan and navigate any trip—all built by a team led by Anat Caspi of the University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, as Melissa Hellmann reports for the Seattle Times. AccessMap allows users to customize their journey by choosing the percentage of uphill and downhill steepness of a path and whether they’d like to avoid curbs. Right now it only covers Seattle. Caspi sees her work as transcending the needs of the more than one billion people with disabilities worldwide, and “designing for the fullness of the human condition.”

  • After an ugly public split between founders, The Markup, the tech news startup backed by a coalition of philanthropies led by Craig Newmark, is back with a new leadership team centered on its original editor-in-chief, Julia Angwin, Marc Tracy reports for The New York Times. Joining her to manage the ambitious operation are Nabiha Syed, former general counsel at Buzzfeed and Evelyn Larrubia, previously the executive editor of public radio’s Marketplace. Here are more details from The Markup’s release on the news. There’s no word on the status of either Sue Gardner, Angwin’s original co-founder, or Jeff Larson, who left ProPublica with Angwin to start the publication and then sided with Gardner when the initial falling out took place.

  • Longtime Code for America software engineer Dave Guarino has a smart thread up on Twitter on how to understand when adding tech to some hard-to-solve social problem can change the dynamics of that problem dramatically and positively.

  • Listen: Here’s an annotated list of 18 civic tech podcasts, curated by Marian Guillet of CitizenLab.

  • Apply: Blue Ridge Labs, working in collaboration with the National Domestic Workers Alliance Labs, is looking for mission-driven startups focused on improving the lives of low-income New Yorkers to apply to its 6-month Catalyst program, which provides $50,000 in funding plus product support, coaching and free workspace. This is one of the best programs of its kind in the country; applications are due by August 28.

  • Apply: New York City’s Department of Planning is looking to hire a senior director of application development.

  • Tech and politics: Cloudflare’s decision to stop providing network protection services to 8chan may well have been the right one, in that the platform was designed to be “lawless and unmoderated” and it has demonstrated its ability to cause real harm, but as Evelyn Douek explains in a careful essay for The Atlantic, leaving these kinds of censorship decisions to private companies is still a bad idea.

  • Mijente is out with a new report detailing how Palantir is profiting from pursuing government contracts providing digital tools to ICE and the Customs and Border Patrol.

  • Tech for Campaigns is out with a new report on the usage of texting to get out of the vote in 2018, finding that people who were texted were slightly more likely to vote (73.2% to 72.2%) than people who were not texted. Not mentioned: whether texting turns off more recipients than it galvanizes; count me in the camp that thinks that rampant use of political texting is rapidly ruining this communications channel.

  • Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong are using Tinder and Pokemon Go to organize, the South China Morning Post reports.

  • Food for thought: Stanford professor Larry Diamond, who teaches a course there on liberation technology, explains to Vox’s Kara Swisher not only why Russia is a mafia state and China is the world’s first digital totalitarian state, but why the United States needs to be wary of digital voting and in favor of ranked-choice voting.

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