"government" entries

On the power and perils of “preemptive government”

Stephen Goldsmith on the potential of urban predictive data analytics in municipal government.

The last time I spoke with Stephen Goldsmith, he was the Deputy Mayor of New York City, advocating for increased use of “citizensourcing,” where government uses technology tools to tap into the distributed intelligence of residents to understand – and fix – issues around its streets, on its services and even within institutions. In the years since, as a professor at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the former mayor of Indianapolis has advanced the notion of “preemptive government.”

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RFP-EZ: Making it easier for small companies to bid on government contracts

RFP-EZ is a small step towards making it easier for new businesses to sell to government.

A few years ago, when I was doing the research that led to my work in open government, I had a conversation with Aneesh Chopra, later the first Federal CTO but at the time, the Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I remember him telling me about the frustration of being in government, knowing that you could go to someone down the street to build a website in a week, but still having to put the job through procurement, a process taking nine months and resulting in a website costing ten times or more what it could have cost if he’d just been able to hire someone on the open market.

Much of the difficulty stems from stringent legal regulations that make it difficult for companies to compete and do business with government. (Like so many government regulations, these rules were designed with good intentions after scandals involving government officials steering contracts to their friends, but need to be simplified and updated for current circumstances.) The regulations are so complex that often, the people who do business with the federal government are more specialized in understanding that regulation than they are in the technology they’re providing. As a result, there are specialized intermediaries whose sole business is bidding on government jobs, and then subcontracting them to people who can actually do the work.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that many things that were once hard and expensive are now easy and cheap. But government rules make it hard to adopt cutting edge technology.

That’s why I’m excited to see the Small Business Administration launch RFP-EZ as part of the White House’s Presidential Innovation Fellows program. It’s a small step towards getting the door open — towards making it easier for new businesses to sell to government. RFP-EZ simplifies both the process for small companies to bid on government jobs and the process for government officials to post their requests. Hopefully it will increase government’s access to technology, increase competition in the federal space, and lower prices. Read more…

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What I learned about #debates, social media and being a pundit on Al Jazeera English

Why I'll be turning off the Net and tuning in to the final presidential debate.

The Stream - Al Jazeera EnglishEarlier this month, when I was asked by Al Jazeera English if I’d like to be go on live television to analyze the online side of the presidential debates, I didn’t immediately accept. I’d be facing a live international audience at a moment of intense political interest, without a great wealth of on-air training. That said, I felt honored to be asked by Al Jazeera. I’ve been following the network’s steady evolution over the past two decades, building from early beginnings during the first Gulf War to its current position as one of the best sources of live coverage and hard news from the Middle East. When Tahrir Square was at the height of its foment during the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera was livestreaming it online to the rest of the world.

I’ve been showing a slide in a presentation for months now that features Al Jazeera’s “The Stream” as a notable combination of social media, online video and broadcast journalism since its inception.

So, by and large, the choice was clear: say “yes,” and then figure out how to do a good job.

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Comments: 4

Culture transmission is bi-directional

Makers: don't worry about what DARPA will do to you. Think about what you can do to DARPA.

I read this piece in the New York Times the other day and have read it two or three more times since then. It dives into the controversy around DARPA’s involvement in hacker space funding. But frankly, every time I come across this controversy, I’m baffled.

I usually associate this sort of government distrust with Tea Party-led Republicans. The left, and even many of us in the middle, generally have more faith in government institutions. We’re more likely to view government as a tool to implement the collective will of the people. Lots of us figure that government is necessary, or at least useful, to accomplish things that are too big or hairy for any other group of citizens to achieve (in fact, a careful reading of Hayek will show even he thought so – commence comment flame war in 3 ..2 ..1 …).

So, to summarize, the right dislikes big government and typically the left embraces it. At least, right up until the moment the military is involved. Then the right worships big government (largely at the temple of the History Channel) and the left despises it.

Of course, I don’t know anything about the politics of the people criticizing this DARPA funding, just that they are worried that defense money will be a corrupting influence on the maker movement. Which would imply that they think Defense Department values are corrupting. And they might be right to have some concerns. While the U.S. military services are probably the single most competent piece of our entire government, the defense industrial complex that equips them is pretty damned awful. It’s inefficient, spends more time on political than actual engineering, and is where most of the world’s bad suits go to get rumpled. And there is no doubt that money is a vector along which culture and values will readily travel, so I suppose it’s reasonable to fear that the maker movement could be changed by it.

But what everyone seems to be missing is that this isn’t a one-way process and the military, via DARPA, is essentially saying “we want to absorb not just your technology but the culture of openness by which you create it.” That’s an amazing opportunity and shouldn’t be ignored. The money is one vector, but the interactions, magical projects, and collaboration are another, perhaps more powerful vector, along which the values of the maker movement can be swabbed directly into one of the most influential elements of our society. This is opportunity! Read more…

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What caused New York’s startup boom?

A few early and broad questions in our exploration of NYC's startup community.

Google's New York officeSince the crisis of 2008 New York City’s massive financial sector — the city’s richest economic engine, once seen to have unlimited potential for growth — has languished. In the meantime, attention has turned to its nascent startup sector, home to Foursquare, Tumblr, 10gen, Etsy and Gilt, where VC investment has surged even as it’s been flat in other big U.S. tech centers (PDF).

I’ve started to poke around the tech community here with a view toward eventually publishing a paper on the rise of New York’s startup scene. In my initial conversations, I’ve come up with a few broad questions I’ll focus on, and I’d welcome thoughts from this blog’s legion of smart readers on any of these.

  • How many people in New York’s startup community came from finance, and under what conditions did they make the move? In 2003, Google was a five-year-old, privately-held startup and Bear Stearns was an 80-year-old pillar of the financial sector. Five years later, Google was a pillar of the technical economy and among the world’s biggest companies; Bear Stearns had ceased to exist. Bright quantitatively-minded people who might have pursued finance for its stability and lucre now see that sector as unstable and not necessarily lucrative; its advantage over the technology sector in those respects has disappeared. Joining a 10-person startup is very different from taking a job at Google, but the comparative appeal of the two sectors has dramatically shifted.
  • To what degree have anchor institutions played a role in the New York startup scene? The relationship between Stanford University and Silicon Valley is well-documented; I’d like to figure out who’s producing steady streams of bright technologists in New York. Google’s Chelsea office, opened in 2006, now employs close to 3,000 people, and its alumni include Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare. That office is now old enough that it can generate a high volume of spin-offs as Googlers look for new challenges. And Columbia and NYU (and soon a Cornell-Technion consortium) have embraced New York’s startup community.
  • Read more…

Comments: 11

Three kinds of big data

Looking ahead at big data's role in enterprise business intelligence, civil engineering, and customer relationship optimization.

Photo of the columns of Castor and Pollux by OliverN5 on FlickrIn the past couple of years, marketers and pundits have spent a lot of time labeling everything “big data.” The reasoning goes something like this:

  • Everything is on the Internet.
  • The Internet has a lot of data.
  • Therefore, everything is big data.

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have a Hadoop deployment, everything looks like big data. And if you’re trying to cloak your company in the mantle of a burgeoning industry, big data will do just fine. But seeing big data everywhere is a sure way to hasten the inevitable fall from the peak of high expectations to the trough of disillusionment.

We saw this with cloud computing. From early idealists saying everything would live in a magical, limitless, free data center to today’s pragmatism about virtualization and infrastructure, we soon took off our rose-colored glasses and put on welding goggles so we could actually build stuff.

So where will big data go to grow up?

Once we get over ourselves and start rolling up our sleeves, I think big data will fall into three major buckets: Enterprise BI, Civil Engineering, and Customer Relationship Optimization. This is where we’ll see most IT spending, most government oversight, and most early adoption in the next few years. Read more…

Comments: 10
Four short links: 29 June 2012

Four short links: 29 June 2012

Personalized Education, Programming Living Data, The Invisible Economy, and State vs Internet

  1. Personalization (Chris Lehmann) — We should be careful about how we use that term, and we should be very skeptical of how well computerized programs can really personalize for kids. Most of what I see – especially from curriculum and assessment vendors – involves personalization of pace while still maintaining standardization of content. This.
  2. Unveiling Quadrigram (Near Future Laboratory) — a Visual Programming Environment to gather, shape and share living data. By living data we mean data that are constantly changing and accumulating. They can come from social network, sensor feeds, human activity, surveys, or any kind of operation that produce digital information.
  3. Tim O’Reilly at MIT Media Lab (Ethan Zuckerman) — a great recap of a Tim talk. There’s an interesting discussion of the unmeasured value created by peer-to-peer activities (such as those made dead simple by the Internet), which is one of the new areas we’re digging into here at O’Reilly.
  4. The State vs the Internet (David Eaves) — we’ve all seen many ways in which the Internet is undermining the power of nation states. A session at Foo asked how it was going to end (which would give way first?), and this is an excellent recap. It could be that the corporation is actually the entity best positioned to adapt to the internet age. Small enough to leverage networks, big enough to generate a community that is actually loyal and engaged.
Comments: 2

Top stories: February 20-24, 2012

Data for the public good, the coming health IT revolution, big data in the cloud.

This week on O'Reilly: Alex Howard examined data's civic role, Dr. Farzad Mostashari discussed health IT and patient empowerment, and Edd Dumbill surveyed big data cloud offerings.

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Data for the public good

From healthcare to finance to emergency response, data holds immense potential to help citizens and government.

The explosion of big data, open data and social data offers new opportunities to address humanity's biggest challenges. The open question is no longer if data can be used for the public good, but how.

Comments: 8
Four short links: 7 November 2011

Four short links: 7 November 2011

City Finances, Low-Power Computers, Future History, and Learner's Mindset

  1. California and Bust (Vanity Fair) — Michael Lewis digs into city and state finances, and the news ain’t good.
  2. Tonido Plug 2 — with only watts a day, you could have your own low-cost compute farm that runs off a car battery and a cheap solar panel.
  3. William Gibson Interview (The Paris Review) — It’s harder to imagine the past that went away than it is to imagine the future. What we were prior to our latest batch of technology is, in a way, unknowable. It would be harder to accurately imagine what New York City was like the day before the advent of broadcast television than to imagine what it will be like after life-size broadcast holography comes online. But actually the New York without the television is more mysterious, because we’ve already been there and nobody paid any attention. That world is gone.
  4. Zen and the Art of Making (Phil Torrone) — thoughts on the difference between beginners and experts, and why the beginner’s mindset is intoxicating and addictive.
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