I took a leave of absence from my job at the end of 2016 to join the peerless Digital team at Hillary for America for the final four months of the campaign (more on that soon). Now I’m back at work as Director of Civic Technology at Microsoft in NYC.
We held our seasonal demo night where we gave updates on many of our projects:
I’m also working to connect newly engaged Americans to effective ways to create change, including at the recent NYC edition of the Debug Politics hackathon (Fast Company’s writeup), where I gave a talk to connect technologists to existing work in civic tech.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.