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.

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Screenshot by @nmonroe
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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?

Personal Data Geographies

Our phones track our personal geographies. This enables dystopian surveillance, but also provides an interesting layer of biographical data that we haven’t had access to previously. My personal perspective is that if other actors (cellphone companies, marketers, governments) are going to have access to this information, I should at least be able to view and analyze this data, too. That’s why I’m thankful that Google exposes this data to end-users through the Location History page, and also allows outputs of raw geodata.

I’m going to use this data as a personal reflection aid, sort of the way social media data helps power TimeHop‘s semi-automated moments of reflection. I’m also experimenting with artistic visualizations (as in, actual paint and paper). But to start, I’ve taken the data from the 5 or so months that I’ve lived in New York, imported it into Google Earth, and created a GIF of my geographic footprint:

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Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures

Liveblog of a #Berkman lunch written with Erhardt Graeff.

Tim Davies (@timdavies) is a social researcher with interests in civic participation and civic technologies. He has spent the last five years focussing on the development of the open government data landscape around the world, from his MSc work at the Oxford Internet Institute on Data and Democracy, the first major study of data.gov.uk, through to leading a 12-country study on the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries for the World Wide Web Foundation.

A broad coalition of companies, governments, and other entities have come together to open data. This work is based on the belief that opening data creates myriad benefits to society, for transparency, for economic value, and other benefits.

Does open data reconfigure power relationships in the political space? The past, promise, and reality of open data reminds wide. Continue reading Unpacking open data: power, politics and the influence of infrastructures