Rooms With a View

Digital strategies for local elected officials; Commerce vs open-source; and more


  • This is civic tech: While Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is demonstrating just how powerful authentic communication can be on social media, there’s a question that still begs to be answered: what digital tools and approaches should run-of-the-mill local elected officials take to better engage with their constituents. As I report in a new piece for Civicist, below the level of Congress no one has good answers.

  • Manny’s, a new civic space in San Francisco’s Mission District, has a memorandum of understanding with a dozen local community nonprofits, a bilingual staff, and affordable food prepared onsite by a local nonprofit employing homeless, formerly incarcerated and low-income community members, but as Joe Eskanazi reports for Mission Local, it’s still being targeted for protests by anti-Zionist groups because its founder Manny Yekutiel has voiced support for Israel’s existence.

  • A month-old report from the Commerce Department on “Unleashing American Innovationgets a tongue-lashing from open government expert Waldo Jaquith, who points out that the department wants to abandon the open-sourcing of government developed software because it prevents contractors from making more money.

  • Apply: Oakland’s Civic Design Lab is looking to hire a service design manager.

  • Apply: Personal Democracy Forum Central-Eastern Europe, taking place in Gdansk April 4-5, has funding to support travel for international participants; applications are due January 18.

  • Follow: South Carolina open government geek Shelby Switzer has launched {Civic:Unrest}, a blog about their decision to go full-time into civic tech work.

  • Life in Facebookistan: Another organization backed by billionaire Reid Hoffman is being scrutinized by Facebook for setting up misleading news pages, this time targeting left-leaning voters, Tony Romm, Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg report for the Washington Post.

  • And an unrelated effort, called “Dry Alabama,” paid for by different progressive Democrats also trying to fool Republicans in the 2017 Alabama Senate race, is uncovered by Scott Shane and Alan Blinder of the New York Times.

  • The Zuckerberg San Francisco General public hospital has the most unusual emergency room billing practices of any in the country, because it doesn’t take coverage from any private health insurer, Sarah Kliff reports for Vox, resulting in massive out of pocket bills for many patients. The hospital was renamed after the Facebook CEO and his wife Priscilla Chan gave it a $75 million gift in 2015 to demonstrate their belief that “everyone deserves access to high quality health care.” We have now officially entered the “any story with Zuckerberg in the headline gets clicks” phase of the tech backlash, since this hospital’s policy’s have little to nothing to do with Zuckerberg, but it’s still a shocking story.

  • Brave new world: Kohler’s new “intelligent toilet” comes with ambient lighting, built-in music, and Amazon Alexa voice controls, and is stealing the show at CES, reports James Vincent for The Verge. This is great, since Alexa records everything it hears and sends the data back to Amazon, which is now (unrelatedly) planning to pilot a new marketing program sending free samples to consumers based on their buying habits.

  • The Numi Intelligent Toilet (with Kohler Konnect) retails for $7000 and appears to be marketed for a very specific kind of white man with far too much disposable income. You might say that he’s flush.

  • In case you are still paying attention: Here’s a list of the 140 things WikiLeaks says are “false or defamatory” about Julian Assange.

  • Why you shouldn’t care about “Inbox Zero,” by Taylor Lorenz in the Atlantic. (I have 40,542 un-read emails in my in-box. Winning!)

  • End times: Would Dumbledore have done this to his dog?