This is the kind of innovation that gets me excited. The Green Button is like OAuth for energy data. It is a simple standard that the utilities can implement on one side and web/mobile deveopers can implement on the other side. And the result is a ton of information sharing about energy consumption and in all liklihood energy savings that result from more informed consumers.
The Green Button follows on the success of the Blue Button, a similar initiative that allows veterans to get at their medical data.
I’m a big fan of simplicity and open standards to unleash a lot of innovation. APIs and open data aren’t always simple concepts for end users. Green Buttons and Blue Buttons are pretty simple concepts that most consumers will understand. I’m hoping we soon see Yellow Buttons, Red Buttons, Purple Buttons, and Orange Buttons too.
Let’s get behind these open data initiatives. Let’s build them into our apps. And let’s pressure our hospitals, utilities, and other institutions to support them. I’m going to reach out to ConEd, the utility in NYC, and find out when they are going to add Green Button support to their consumers data. I hope it is soon.
This strikes me as an important data point, endorsement and call to action. Let’s see what happens. After a huge year of changes and progress for Gov 2.0 in 2011, open data looks poised to take off in 2012.
For more about the Green Button initiative, watch the video interview with the nation’s first CTO, below. (Hat tip PG & E.)
Today in Washington, the “School without Walls was full of of civic energy around open data, tech, community, bikes, smart cities, systems, efficiency, sustainability, accessibility, trains, buses, hacking, social networking, research, policy, crowdsourcing and more. Transportation Camp, an “unconference” generated by its attendees, featured dozens of sessions on all of those topics and more. As I’ve reported before, transit data is open government fuel for economic growth.
Below, the stories told in the tweets from the people show how much more there is to the world of transit than data alone. Their enthusiasm and knowledge made the 2012 iteration of Transportation Camp in the District a success.
For those left wondering why such opposition persists after some sensational headlines this morning, prospects for the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House are significantly damaged but the legislation is not “dead.” Rather, the legislation is shelved until ‘consensus is reached.’ I believe that the writer at the Examiner sourced Rep. Darrell Issa’s statement from late Friday night when he wrote that Rep. Cantor made a ‘surprise statement.’ There’s no such statement in the House Majority Leader’s social media accounts or at GOPLeader.gov. As of this afternoon, requests for a statement to Rep. Cantor’s office have not been returned.
Here’s what actually was released: “Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote,” said Rep. Issa in a prepared statement released late Friday night.
Seasoned security scribe Bill Brenner is more reasonable in his caution at CSO Online and at his blog, where he writes that:
“My Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” wrote President Obama in a signing statement.
It’s the actions of presidential administrations in the future, given detention powers in the NDAA, that worry many observers, including the ACLU. Once such executive authority is granted, it will likely take years for the judicial system to provide a check or balance. And given that the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security has already been taking down websites for over a year, caution for this White House’s position here is warranted.
In one scenario, consider that a heavily amended version of SOPA and PIPA that do contain DNS provisions could make it through Congress, once “consensus is reached” in the House and a filibuster from Senator Wyden in the Senate is overcome.
In the absence of clearer guidance from the House Majority Leader’s office on what’s acceptable in the bill, it remains possible that a deal could still be made which legislative leaders then feel represents “consensus” — Rep. Smith has said he’ll pull the DNS provisions, for instance — and then SOPA could be brought to a vote. The President could add a signing statement and, well, you get the idea.
The Senate version’s of an anti-piracy bill (The PROTECT IP Act) is set for a potential vote next week. 14 Senators are currently publicly opposed to it. Without support from the House or the White House, of course, its prospects to become law in this Congress are damaged but not eliminated. Senator Leahy has indicated that he’d recommend study the impact of the DNS provisions after passage, not pull them entirely. Brad Plumer, who wrote that lawmakers are backing away from online piracy bills, offered this analysis:
Now, that doesn’t mean these bills, or their most controversial features, are dead and buried. Leahy, for one, was pretty clear that still supports passing a bill with DNS-blocking — he just thinks that feature should be studied carefully before it actually gets implemented. (As TechDirt’s Michael Masnick points out, that sounds like a compelling reason to slow down and reconsider before passing the bill, rather than enacting a provision that lawmakers don’t fully understand.)
UPDATE: On Tuesday, January 17th, Rep. Lamar Smith said that markup of SOPA would resume in February. So no, SOPA is not dead. Here’s the statement his office released:
Chairman Smith: “To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America’s intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy.
“Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.
“I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property.”
One of the most powerful politicians in the U.S House has publicly voiced his opposition to the bill, consistent with past opposition to regulatory burdens created in Washington. “The internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history,” said Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), in a statement opposing SOPA. “It should stay that way. While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.”
He’s right. These bills would upend the predictable legal environment created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, subjecting online innovators to a new era of uncertainty and risk. Legal experts from the top law schools in the country warn that they would damage free speech. Human rights experts warn that they would would force pervasive scrutiny and surveillance of Internet users’ online activities. Venture capitalists warn would chill the growth of social media and conscript every online platform into a new role as content police. The government’s own cybersecurity experts, at Sandia Labs, warn that these bills would damage DNSSEC, harming national security at a time when American government, businesses and consumers face attacks on their networks and computers every day. The founders of the Internet and World Wide Web warn that would lay the groundwork for an increasingly balkanized Internet, directly undercutting U.S. foreign policy advocacy in support of a single, global, open network.
While Wikipedia and other sites blacking out at this scale is an an unprecedented action, what happens offline is still critical. That’s where laws are still made, after all. While new means of collective action enabled by the Internet are increasingly important, particularly with respect to generating coverage of these bills by the broadcast media, the voices that Representatives and Senators listen to most are those of their constituents. If these bills are important to you, the most effective action that any concerned citizen that wants to talk to Congress can take remains to go see your Senator or Congressman in person, call them or write them a letter.
In a Fast Company post earlier this week, information architect and user experience consultant Hana Schank is skeptical of whether New York City takes digital seriously. The city’s approach to digital development” focuses on plenty of sizzle, not much steak,” writes Schank. “It’s time for the city to deeply explore what New York’s citizens actually need, and the ways in which those citizens are likely to behave.”
Schank is onto an important trend, although perhaps a bit late to the party: throughout 2011, there’s been a rising tide of opinion that apps contests and hackathons should make tech citizens need. People like Clay Johnson have been suggesting that government focus on building community, not apps contests for some time.
Schank may have touched a nerve in the NYC digital tech community, given that +Dave Winer shared her piece on Twitter earlier today. As I’ve alluded to, I’ve seen skepticism about apps contests as mechanisms for solving serious urban problems become widespread, far beyond Gotham City.
“I was discussing this just the other day. From what I know I’m drawn to @HanaSchank’s argument. But NYC not alone sadly,” tweeted Dominic Campbell, in response to my question on Twitter.
Mark Drapeau, Microsoft’s Director of Innovative Engagement, a long-time observer of Gov 2.0, agreed:
Despite Drapeau’s assertions, an emerging trend this year for government app contests in cities is a shift from “what’s possible with this dataset” to focusing on the needs of citizens.
Earlier this week, Govfresh founder Luke Fretwell shared a similarly strong opinion about this issue about civic hackathons. “Too many civic hackathons focus on developer vanity projects that don’t address real technology issues governments face,” writes Fretwell. “Government must be proactive in organizing and sharing their needs and collaborate with civic-minded developers during hackathons like Education Hack Day to get these problems addressed. Developers need to focus on projects that make a difference and provide sustainable technology solutions.”
That’s a point that the open government community has coalesced around, as the speakers in the EPA open data webinar embedded below make clear:
A fair assessment of NYC Big Apps 3.0?
If apps contests are going to endure in any form, they will need to evolve. On that could, it look likes that Schank simply missed that NYC BigApps 3.0 asked citizens for ideas about apps they needed. They’re explicitly trying to tie ideas to development, as ChallengePost founder Brandon Kessler pointed out in a comment on her post.
Did it matter that the NYC BigApps organizers asked for ideas on what citizens need? “As someone who does this for a living, doesn’t generally work quite like that,” replied Campbell. “Need facilitated conversation 2 get 2 nub of probs. Complex problems need far more nuanced, in-depth, long-term, facilitated approaches. Apps contests are lightweight. They work for some of the quick wins and easy solutions or to start a process. but what of the ppl who really need help?”
Kessler also commented, however, on the fact that the winner of the first NYC BigApps contest is now a VC-funded startup, MyCityWay. While $5 million in funding after an apps contest isn’t a common outcome (in fact, it’s unique as far as I know) it shows what can happen when civic entrepreneurs decide to solve a problem for citizens that hasn’t been addressed in the market. In this case, MyCityWay offers a good digital city guide that’s populated with open government data. There are a number of other ways that NYC open data has been useful to citizens, not least during Irene, where social, mapping and crisis data played a role in informing the public about the hurricane.
“We’re using the Apps for Chicago to get a new kind of civic engagement and participation, which you can get involved in whether you write code or not,” said John Tolva, Chicago CTO, in our interview earlier this yera. “We’ve invited community leaders and groups to the table. The idea for a ‘Yelp for social services’ didn’t come from a technologist, for example. We’re curating ideas from non-technologists.”
Like Apps for Chicago, winners of Apps for Communities (from the FCC and Knight Foundation) are similarly open source and each are focused on problems that citizens actually have:
Yakb.us, (www.yakb.us) “provides bus riders with arrival times in English and Spanish when a five-digit bus stop number displayed onsite is texted to the local transit agency.”
Homeless SCC (http://homeless-scc.org) “connects homeless people and families with services according to their specific needs and eligibility.”
Txt2wrk (http://www.txt2wrk.net) “helps parolees, the homeless and other job seekers compete on a more level playing field by allowing them to apply for jobs online thorugh a text-to-speech delivery of job postings on any mobile phone.”
It’s about the open data, not the apps
In her article, Schank is bearish on New York City’s digital prospects, holding up the relative failure of Roadify to burn rubber and asserting that the widely publicized “Re-Invent NYC.gov Hackathon” held over the summer is only going to encourage more Roadify-like ideas, rather than address what people really need out of the city’s website.”
Given that I’ve reported on New York’s digital open government efforts, I followed the progress of that hackathon closely. Frankly, I’m not convinced that Schank picked up the phone and talked to any of the participants or NYC chief digital officer Rachel Sterne: the redesigns of NYC.gov I saw were search-centric and focused on what citizens were likely to need.
“The new pilot program allowing bus riders to text for the location of their bus offers another example of what not to do. Bus riders who text a number posted at their bus stop are rewarded with a text back from the MTA that says something like “your bus is 0.8 miles away.”
I suppose in some city, somewhere, 0.8 miles might be a meaningful designation for the distance between two points, but in Brooklyn, where the program is being piloted, it leaves riders with exactly the same knowledge about their bus’s whereabouts they would have had before texting. Is 0.8 miles very far away? Is there traffic? Why not text back the location of the bus (“Your bus is at Atlantic and Court St.”), or an estimated arrival time, both of which should be easily calculable based on the user’s location and average bus travel times?”
That’s a valid critique and Schank offers good ideas for riders. And she’s clearly right about how fractured information is over 100 websites in NYC, along with the lack of citizen-centricity that’s often on display. (We’ll see if the recommendations from the NYC.gov hackathon bear fruit.)
The thing is, if she, as user experience consultant, wanted to team up with a developer and make a better bus app, I believe that there’s a road to creating such a thing precisely because of how NYC set up its bus tracking system as a platform.
If NYC can similarly open up application programming interfaces and data for traffic violations, lunches and e-cycling, apps for school lunch calendars, speeding ticket and paint thinner disposal locations could become available to citizens. Which all goes to say, if you scratch a little deeper about some of its thinking and actions, maybe NYC gets digital a bit more than Schank’s withering critique would suggest.
Last week, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Representative Zoe Lofgren sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to the other members of the House of Representatives entitled “A bipartisan attempt to regulate the Internet?”
I’ve posted the letter below in its entirety, adding a link to the bill page for the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) (H.R. 3261) on Thomas.gov and a PopVox widget after it, and embedded my interview with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden about the PROTECT IP Act, the companion bill to SOPA in the Senate.
From: The Honorable Zoe Lofgren
Sent By: Ryan.Clough@mail.house.gov
We agree with the goal of fighting online copyright infringement, and would support narrowly targeted legislation that does not ensnare legitimate websites. We also believe that a consensus on the issue between the content and technology industries is achievable. As the attached article makes clear, H.R. 3261 unfortunately does not follow a consensus-based approach. It would give the government sweeping new powers to order Internet Service Providers to implement various filtering technologies on their networks. It would also create new forms of private legal action against websites—cutting them off from payment and advertising providers by default, without any court review, upon a complaint from any copyright owner, even one whose work is not necessarily being infringed.
Online innovation and commerce were responsible for 15 percent of U.S. GDP growth from 2004 to 2009, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Before we impose a sprawling new regulatory regime on the Internet, we must carefully consider the risks that it could pose for this vital engine of our economy.
Update: In the context of fauxpen data, beware “openwashing:” Simply opening up data is not a replacement for a Constitution that enforces a rule of law, free and fair elections, an effective judiciary, decent schools, basic regulatory bodies or civil society — particularly if the data does not relate to meaningful aspects of society. Adopting open data and digital government reforms is not quite the same thing as good government, although they certainly can be and are related, in some cases.
If a country launches an open data platform but deprecates freedom of the press or assembly, questions freedom of information laws or restricts the ability of government scientists to speak to the public, is it adopting “open government” — or doing something else?
Eder shared more about how mapping Chicago’s vacant buildings in a blog post earlier this week. The results are unsurprising: there are many more vacant buildings in areas with high poverty rates.
Eder said that the app could be used by other cities, depending on how they store or format their data. The code for Chicago Buildings is on Github. On that front, he says that Chicago “isn’t using Open 311 yet, so this site isn’t either. That being said, it wouldn’t be too hard to hook up the same interface to a different data source.” Code for America will help Chicago to implement Open311 in 2012. Eder shared that he wrote a script that converts Socrata to Google Fusion Tables that could be modified for this purpose.
In the video below, Elizabeth Park, the creator of IFindit Chicago, talks about how she was inspired to build the team that created an Android app to help homeless and lower income citizens find resources like as shelters, medical clinics,and food pantries.
It’s a tale of two parties, two social networks, live events and high stakes: creating jobs in an American economy still struggling to come out of recession. Would the American Jobs Act, introduced by President Obama earlier this month, make a difference? Can the White House or Congress do anything to create jobs, aside from directly hiring more government workers for infrastructure projects or similar initiatives? The American people will have the opportunity to hear from both sides of the aisle today and judge themselves, starting at 2 PM EST when the president will participate in a town hall hosted at LinkedIn in California.
Personally, I’d like to see CEO Jeff Weiner crunch the big data the social network has collected about job openings and the skills and degrees that high school and college grads currently have. Programs and policies oriented towards matching the two would be an interesting direction.
House GOP Leaders discuss technology, transparency and jobs
At 6 PM EST, the leaders of the Republican caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives will also host an online townhall, though they’ll be doing it on Facebook Live. The event will feature House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California and Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg will moderate.
Prior to today’s event, the House GOP leaders participated in a discussion about the role social media and technology now plays in government with Politico’s senior White House correspondent, Mike Allen. Video is below:
In the interview, the House GOP’s “Young Guns” spoke at length about the role that new social and mobile technology plays in the work of Congress and government, touching upon many subjects that will be of interest to the open government community.
Such interest is hardly new — the new GOP majority came into the House with promises to embrace innovation and transparency— but given the importance of open government, it’s a useful reminder that open government is a bipartisan issue.
If you have thoughts or comments on either of the town halls or the discussion above, please share them in the comments.
UPDATE: The archived video of this congressional “Facehall” is embedded below:
UPDATE: A Storify of my own tweets during the event is embedded below:
NYC Hacks and Hackers co-organizer Chrys Wu was kind enough to ask my questions, posed over Twitter. Here were the answers I pulled out from the video above:
How much data has been released? Park: “A ton.” He pointed to HealthData.gov as a scorecard and said that HHS isn’t just releasing brand new data. They’re “also making existing data truly accessible or usable,” he said. They’re taking “stuff that’s in a book or website and turning it into machine readable data or an API.”
What formats? Park: Lots and lots of different formats. “Some people put spreadsheets online, other people actually create open APIs and open services,” he said. “We’re trying to migrate people as much towards open API as possible.”
Impact to date? “The best quantification that I can articulate is the Health data-palooza,” he said. “50 companies and nonprofits updated and deployed new versions of their platforms and services. The data already helping millions of Americans in all kinds of ways.”
Park emphasized that it’s still quite early for the project, at only 18 months into this. He also emphasized that the work isn’t just about data: it’s about how and where it’s used. “Data by itself isn’t useful. You don’t go and download data and slather data on yourself and get healed,” he said. “Data is useful when it’s integrated with other stuff that does useful jobs for doctors, patients and consumers.”
This Thursday at 4 PM EST, the EPA is hosting a webinar for developers to hear more from the community about what the government can do to make data more usable by developers. (Heads up, government folks: Socrata’s open data study found progress but a long road ahead, with clear need for improvement: only 30 percent of developers surveyed said that government data was available, and of that, 50 percent was unusable.)