Introducing the Civic Features Collection (also in the top nav)

I’ve been inspired for some years now at the potential social impact of embedding social good and civic features into otherwise mainstream technology platforms. After years of building technology projects in DC that only reached 20% of our email list, the ability to reach millions of regular people in the apps they already use is alluring.

I’ve collected examples over the years to help make the argument and increase the practice internally. The similar examples I’ve collected for my Companies Mobilizing Customers Tumblr, which tracks the politicization of users in mainstream apps, have recently been featured in the New York Times (“The Uber-ization of Activism“) and at Fusion (“Meet the Apptivists: The volunteer lobbyists helping keep Airbnb, Uber, and other startups alive“). Given the attention being paid to in-app political campaigns, I thought it would make sense to also share the public-good civic features in a more visual format. Unlike the Companies Mobilizing Customers Tumblr, I’ll try to provide more context and commentary on the featured features. Today, for example, Facebook’s state-sponsored cyber-attack feature is in the news, because it’s how the State Department learned that individual employees’ social media accounts had been targeted by Iran. Check it out.

Here’s what our Civic Tech Fellows did this summer

Our incredible cohort of Civic Tech Fellows (and Program Manager Saron Yitbarek) spent their summers building useful tools and programs to support the field of civic tech. Here are some demos of new tools and projects that are early in development, shared with the Civic Hall community on August 27th, 2015.


  • Blockchain for Social Impact
  • Civic Graph
  • Civic Graph check-in
  • USDA Innovation Challenge and Big Apps
  • Maker Kit
  • Civic Tech Casefinder
  • Microsoft Translator
  • BRCK
  • Tech Jobs Academy website launch template
  • An open website launch template

Continue reading Here’s what our Civic Tech Fellows did this summer

Modeling NYC Subway Flow and School Districts’ Effect on Housing Value

Justin Rao and Jake Hofman coordinate the Data Science Summer School program, hosted and sponsored by Microsoft Research. Each year, dedicated students spend their summer learning how to conduct research thanks to a network of researchers, mentors, and advisors. All of the course materials are openly and freely available on Github.

Tonight, we’re celebrating the program’s second class. Last year’s students researched questions about racial profiling in New York City and how to optimize the city’s bikeshare system. This year, it’s all about subways and school districts. Continue reading Modeling NYC Subway Flow and School Districts’ Effect on Housing Value

In praise of echo chambers, and Nuzzel

I once spent an afternoon during my time at the MIT Media Lab with a marker board and Kshitij Marwah. We drew out the various news products we could make using link-sharing data from once-removed contacts in users’ networks. We thought we might help people discover content they were likely to like sooner, by surfacing trending links before even their own network had discovered and shared them.

A version of this idea has successfully been productized by the team at Nuzzel. Once a critical mass of your contacts share a link (8 seems to be the magic number in my network), the app sends you a push notification with the story. The app primarily looks at shares within your immediate network, but also has an extended network view. With its timely but manageable updates, it fits squarely within a new generation of apps designed to live in your phone’s notifications shade.

Screenshot by @nmonroe
Continue reading In praise of echo chambers, and Nuzzel

Tech in Cuba in 2015

Tech in Cuba 2015

Illustration by J. Longo

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Cuba with my global travel companion Marco Bani. It’s a dynamic place facing rapid changes. I talked to everyone I met – regular people, but for their exposure to the lucrative tourism sector – about technology. The result is this primer in Kernel, the Daily Dot‘s Sunday magazine, for their travel issue. Thanks to Jesse Hicks for his editing. More photos, below.

What is civic tech?

Civic tech is when we apply technology toward shared problems and opportunities. Technology’s daily advance continuously expands the collection of potential ways to improve our society. Civic tech is when we consciously apply technology’s new potentials toward societal needs.

civic tech

And happy birthday to Civicist, the re-launch of TechPresident, which has provided more coverage of civic tech than any other media outlet.

TEDxAlbany: Activism Drives Attention Drives Aid

I was grateful to be able to share a chapter of my thesis on Participatory Aid at TEDxAlbany last month. The video’s online now. Thanks to Lisa Barone and the OverIt team for inviting me and doing such a great job producing the event. Thanks also to Ethan Zuckerman and everyone at MIT Center for Civic Media for connecting me to these ideas in the first place.

It’s been an extremely violent year. What makes a crisis worthy of our attention? It turns out that human suffering does not predict media coverage. How closely is disaster aid correlated to receiving public attention? And, if we’re newly able to use our networks creatively to drive attention, can our active participation improve these formulas?