Category Archives: Shameless Self Promotion

This is my 2017 blog post

Here’s what I’m up to recently…

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 resumed curating the Machine Eatable lunch series on data science for civic good. Come have sandwiches.

With my collaborators Micah Sifry and Erin Simpson, I’m continuing to maintain and build a massive collection of civic tech resources at http://bit.ly/organizecivictech.

I’m also continuing to track when tech products embed civic engagement as civic features, and when companies mobilize their users to take political action in the companies’ interests. Let me know if you see examples of either!

Here are some of the interesting events I go to each month. Come join?

Lastly, I’m working on some product ideas with friends and will share those here as soon as they’re functional enough.

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?

Life News

Cross-posted from MicrosoftNewYork.com:

I’m thrilled to let you know that I’ve joined Microsoft as Director of Civic Technology here in New York City.

My career decisions have been driven by a desire to maximize my social impact. This overarching goal is why I’ve spent the better part of the past decade using technology to accelerate change in organizing, movement building, campaign finance reform, and journalism and digital media.

Recently, I’ve become convinced of the unrealized potential for technology companies themselves to make substantial contributions to social change. In addition to their resources (human, financial, data, and tech), these companies are building the products used by an ever-growing portion of the human species. These products are increasingly the conduits through which we connect, learn, and act. They could reduce barriers to information and courses of action that improve our civic lives.

As we think about how technology can improve citizens’ lives in cities, in particular, it has become quite clear that the opportunities and rewards of the technology economy must be shared more equitably across the power faults of race, gender, class, and access. A big chunk of our work will be focused on inclusion, looking to make improvements in both the existing community and the long-term pipeline. Related to that, we’re excited to support and expand STEM education and employment programs in New York.

We’re lucky to be working in New York City, one of the bastions of civic tech. I’ve been collaborating with the civic tech community here for years, be it through conversations at Personal Democracy Forum (the pinnacle conference in the space), working with news outlets and media startups while getting my Master’s at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, or interviewing for my thesis the many technologists and organizers who innovated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, employed technology to power an unprecedented participatory aid response and in doing so, redefined the resilient community.

What I didn’t know before applying to this job is that Microsoft has assembled a Civic team of great talent, based right here in New York. I’m excited to work closely with John Paul Farmer, co-founder of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. In addition, the team boasts three amazing Civic Tech Fellows: Jenny Shore from Harvard, and Ken Chan and Fatima Khalid, both from NYU.

A key moment for me in making the decision to join this team was attending Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith’s eloquent, impassioned speech at Personal Democracy Forum, where he unequivocally established Microsoft’s support for net neutrality as well as citizens’ privacy rights in the face of NSA overreach. As you may have seen in the news lately, big changes are afoot at Microsoft, and I’m thrilled to join these efforts.

Please get in touch if you’re in New York and want to think through these challenges together. I’m @mstem on Twitter and matt.stempeck@microsoft.com.

#HackATTN @ SXSWi 2014

attn hack

The plane tickets are purchased and I’m getting closer to a place to sleep, so I can now announce that I’m going to SXSW for the first time since 2008 (that time I met Mark Zuckerberg at a Facebook nightclub event). I’ll speaking in a session with Josh Stearns of Free Press, Madeleine Bair of WITNESS, and Adaora Udoji of Syria Deeply. We’ll be sharing our experiences hacking global attention for the purposes of disasters and revolutions.

If you’re going to be in town, I’d love to see your face at the session (or over some incarnation of a taco).
Continue reading #HackATTN @ SXSWi 2014

Gift Idea: Puzzle States

Puzzle States gerrymandered jigsaws

I’ve combined political nerdery with fabrication nerdery to produce laser cut gerrymandered jigsaw puzzles. Each state’s political boundaries are laser cut into finished maple plywood to create a real wooden jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are the gnarly congressional districts designed every decade or so by politicians. States with lots of congressional districts (like California, Texas, and New York) make for pretty difficult puzzles. Even states with fewer districts get tricky to solve in the more populated areas.

The mere act of assembling a puzzle becomes a lesson in controversial computer-assisted gerrymandering, where politicians use Census results to carve their constituencies into districts that will keep them in power. I’m excited to say that for every puzzle purchased, we’ll be donating an additional puzzle to an innovative school civics education program. Students will learn about congressional representation and the decennial redistricting process. The puzzle pieces are also a great conversation starter for learning about The Great Compromise, whereby the far less populated states receive equal representation in the Senate.

Puzzle States are now for sale over at Etsy (you can always just go to puzzlestates.com). Get one today for the campaign geek in your life.

Laser cut jigsaw puzzle

Characterizing the Life Cycle of Online News Stories Using Social Media Reactions

I’ve graduated, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting to see my first academic paper accepted for publication. Thanks to Carlos CastilloMohammed El-Haddad, and Jürgen Pfeffer for driving this paper, and for inviting me to collaborate. Take a look. Al Jazeera English provided us with some great data.

To appear in Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. Baltimore, USA. February 2014.

[Download PDF]

The shelf-life of hard news vs feature pieces
The shelf-life of hard news vs feature pieces on Al Jazeera English

Abstract:
This paper presents a study of the life cycle of news articles posted online. We describe the interplay between website visitation patterns and social media reactions to the news content. We show that we can use this hybrid observation method to characterize distinct classes of articles. We also find that social media reactions can be used to predict future visitation patterns early and accurately.

We validate our methods using qualitative analysis as well as quantitative analysis on data from a large international news network, for a set of articles generating more than 3,000,000 visits and 200,000 social media reactions. We show that it is possible to model accurately the overall traffic articles will ultimately receive by observing the first ten to twenty minutes of social media reactions. Achieving the same prediction accuracy with visits alone would require to wait for three hours of data. We also describe significant improvements on the accuracy of the early prediction of shelf-life for news stories.