Maptivism getting easier, happening more

Combine mapping, with participation, and a subject matter that needs attention, and you can create some powerful, useful tools. Google Maps APIs and various mashup techniques made it easy for technologists to build services that pulled together these concepts, but now hosted services like Ushahidi’s CrowdMap and SeeClickFix are opening up the possibilities to more.

NYTimes: “Phone Apps Aim to Fight Harassment”


Observer: “Want to Help Dig Out Some Police Cars? Site Crowdsources Snow Cleanup in NYC”

Snowmageddon Clean-Up: New York “Police and public turn to social media & maps in the Queensland flood crisis”

EveryMap and ABC Qld Flood Crisis Map

Mercury News: “O’Brien: What Haiti tells us about the promise and limitations of digital media”

GigaOm: “How Social Networks and Mobile Tech Helped in Haiti”


CNN: “Ushahidi: How to ‘crowdmap’ a disaster”

O’Reilly Radar: Alex Howard: “The role of the Internet as a platform for collective action grows”


Ushahidi and CrowdMap

SeeClickFix (which just got some nice investment)


Crisis Commons



We Media

Code for America

Rebooting Democracy thoughts on Activists versus Pundits and Law

The difference between an actual organizer/activist working in a movement and someone of the punditry; there are *concrete* artifacts pursued by an organizer/activist and the primary artifact of a pundit is their cult of personality.

If there aren’t proposals behind the bluster of someone considered a leader, maybe what you have isn’t a leader, but a pundit in pursuit of nothing more than fame and power.

There is a Rebooting Democracy movement brewing among many in technology spheres. Lawrence Lessig is one of the activists (not pundits) behind this and a perfect example of this is a movement he and many others are pursuing to pass the Fair Elections Now act. Check it out.

Activists tend to be far more boring than pundits in my experience (no offense you activists out there). When you start to coalesce energy into real action (which in turn means facing the gears of bureaucracy and process), it can be frustrating, slow and yes, boring. But it’s the body of democracy. And we are part of it.

YouTube: “Schoolhouse Rock- How a Bill Becomes a Law”:

There is a challenge here for the Rebooting Democracy movement. Where is the list of laws or bills on the books that lets me find those I might be interested in supporting or fighting to have dismantled? The tools that are out there require a lot of work and are not where they need to be. Until I can locate laws and bills, Local, State, and Federal that would call me to action (even ‘like’-ing them on Facebook) and such activity can be aggregated some how for our representatives to act on, we remain in a position where those who speak the loudest, or have the greatest cash pile, have the ear of our law-makers.

We say we want an informed citizenry and participatory democracy. To me, this is an achievable small measure along that path.

So if you are a software engineer out there who would like to build the infrastructure for this, or are part of this, let me know, because I want to be involved where I can. There is code to write. System’s to build. So that all of us can better connect, be informed, and participate.


O’Reilly Radar: Mark Drapeau: “What does Government 2.0 look like?”

Rebooting Democracy

Code for America

Sunlight Foundation

Online heroes – Ushahidi

“Africa’s Gift to Silicon Valley: How to Track a Crisis”: “a small Kenyan-born organization called Ushahidi, which has become a hero of the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes and which may have something larger to tell us about the future of humanitarianism, innovation and the nature of what we label as truth.


Ushahidi: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information (FOSS)

Developer information on their wiki

Terrific happenings in the governing and citizen related Web

Tim O’Reilly: Radical Transparency: The New Federal IT Dashboard (and check out the site itself at iteratively grows from 47 to 100,000 data feeds (source Atrios)

EveryBlock blog: EveryBlock source code released

Tim Bray: “Hello World” for Open Data – Tim Bray reviews, and is inspired by, happenings in Vancover.

And locally SEPTA has started to work with Google to help riders plan trips online

A huge round of thanks needs to go to the folks behind iSepta for showing just what is possible.

This and more was discussed at this year’s Personal Democracy Forum – which I missed, which I hopefully won’t next year. Sounds like it was a great event.


O’Reilly radar: John Geraci: The Four Pillars of an Open Civic System

Ignite Philly 2: Geoff DiMassi and Paul Wright “Open Source Philadelphia”

“Are we in control of our own decisions?” – Design for a better world Dan Ariely asks, Are we in control of our own decisions?

Refresh Philly Followups

Following Refresh Philly May have been some great discussions in its related Google Group.

Technically Philly posted two followups: City CIO’s $100 million Digital Philadelphia vision and Editorial: City government calls for tech support

Jonny Goldstein, on his blog, envizualize, had literally, visualized the discussion with some art live at the discussion that is just terrific, you got to take a look: Visual Notes From Philly CIO Allan Frank at Refresh Philly

Two efforts to collect what people want from Philly governments online efforts and the data it makes available have been launched by participants in the discussion:

Wikispaces: phillydata

Google Moderator: Philadelphia – What can we do for you?

Special guest Alllan Frank at tomorrow night’s Refresh Philly

Kellie Carter and Dave Cooksey will lead a discussion on user-centered design and ways in which to improve Philadelphia.

For details on Monday’s get together check out

Its an important discussion and I believe some positive efforts for the city are bound to spring from it.

Using Our Powers For Good

I recently re-read Rebecca Blood’s 2003 BlogTalk presentation: “waging peace: using our powers for good”. It is worth revisiting by anyone who is a blog evangelist or critic. Taking a look at the daily lack of cross linkage on, unfortunately, it seems almost prophetic.

…People agree most readily with the things they already believe, and everyone has only 24 hours in a day. Because of these two factors, weblogs are too often enclosed in echo-chambers of their own making.

In the book ‘Data Smog’, David Shenk says: ‘Birds of a feather flock virtually together’ and this is certainly true of weblogs. He goes on to say: ‘The problem… is that people are tuning in and becoming informed–but they’re tuning into niche media and they’re acquiring specialized knowledge. As our information supply increases, our common discourse and shared understanding decrease. Technically, we possess an unprecedented amount of information; however, what is commonly known has dwindled to a smaller and smaller percentage every year. This should be a sobering realization for a democratic nation, a society that must share information in order to remain a union.’

Let me add that it’s not just specialized knowledge that we are accessing. It’s news and opinion about current events. The Web has given us the ability to retrieve news accounts from around the world. It used to be that most people got their news from just a few sources. This limited access meant that most of us were evaluating events from a common pool of information about the world, or at least a pool that was common to the people around us. But Web users can choose to get their news from wherever they like. And factual accounts of the same events quite often differ substantially in their wording, emphasis, and in the conclusions they draw. We now have the ability to choose from among news accounts until we find one that we feel gets it right.

Now, I don’t advocate returning to the pre-Web world of local newspapers. But there are consequences to the wide access we have gained.

Democracy depends on groups of people coming to terms with one another, and devising solutions that will address the needs of most, if not all, of its citizens. Even a system like mine, in the United States, where majority rules, cannot afford to completely ignore the needs of anyone not in the winning party. Democracies simply cannot function unless citizens and policy-makers can talk to one another and achieve some sort of common ground in addressing the issues of the day.

However, when people can choose their news and information from an unlimited variety of sources, they usually will choose sources that confirm their pre-existing biases. According to, confirmation bias is ‘a tendency on the part of human beings to seek support or confirmation for their beliefs.’ It makes sense, if you think about it. The only basis we have in evaluating any source of information is the set of information–including opinions–that we have already decided is true. Very few people will be inclined to choose primary sources of information that consistently put forth ideas that just seem wrong.

This isn’t deliberate malice. It’s a simple matter of choosing, from the available sources, those that seem most accurate, and those that seem most accurate will always be those that most closely reflect one’s own view of the world. So while the Web, in theory, makes it possible to explore many more points of view than ever before, in practice, few people actually do this to the extent that they can.

Read the whole piece.