Data journalism and the changing landscape for policy making in the age of networked transparency

This morning, I gave a short talk on data journalism and the changing landscape for policy making in the age of networked transparency at the Woodrow Wilson Center in DC, hosted by the Commons Lab.

Video from the event is online at the Wilson Center website. Unfortunately, I found that I didn’t edit my presentation down enough for my allotted time. I made it to slide 84 of 98 in 20 minutes and had to skip the 14 predictions and recommendations section. While many of the themes I describe in those 14 slides came out during the roundtable question and answer period, they’re worth resharing here, in the presentation I’ve embedded below:

On data journalism, accountability and society in the Second Machine Age

On Monday, I delivered a short talk on data journalism, networked transparency, algorithmic transparency and the public interest at the Data & Society Research Institute’s workshop on the social, cultural & ethical dimensions of “big data”. The forum was convened by the Data & Society Research Institute and hosted at New York University’s Information Law Institute at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as part of an ongoing review on big data and privacy ordered by President Barack Obama.

Video of the talk is below, along with the slides I used. You can view all of the videos from the workshop, along with the public plenary on Monday evening, on YouTube or at the workshop page.

Here’s the presentation, with embedded hyperlinks to the organizations, projects and examples discussed:

For more on the “Second Machine Age” referenced in the title, read the new book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

President Obama to host Google+ Hangout on January 31st

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The Google home page currently has a link to ask President Obama a question in a Google+ Hangout. That’s some mighty popular online real estate devoted to citizen engagement.

The first presidential hangout featured real questions from citizens. I hope this one is up to the same standard.

You can see publicly shared questions on the #AskObama2014 hashtag on YouTube or Google+.

More details on the “virtual road trip” with President Obama are available at the official Google blog.

We are, once again, living in the future.

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R U up? Haz $ 4 Uncle Sam? [USGAO to host online chat about taxes & Bitcoin]

More signs that it’s 2013 and we’re all into the 21st century: Tomorrow at 2 PM ET, the United States Government Accountability Office will answer online questions about a decentralized electronic currency during a livestreamed event. 

Yes, the USGAO is talking to the Internet about Bitcoin.

And yes, the agency tweeted about it.

Using social media to convene and amplify a discussion about a difficult, timely topic is a terrific use of the medium and the historic moment. Here’s hoping that USGAO officials get good questions and give frank, clear answers.

You can read more about Bitcoin and taxes at National Journal and follow along at #AskGAOLive on Twitter tomorrow.

White House moves to bash patent trolls, though Congress still must enact trollbane

This morning, President Obama moved to curb suits from “patent trolls,” entities that many observers of the technology industry have been warning have increasingly been harming innovation across the United States. As it turned out, those concerned parties have been right to decry the trend: a report (PDF) contained a startling statistic: the number of lawsuits brought by patent trolls has nearly tripled in the past 2 years, now accounting for 62% of all patent lawsuits in America. As Edward Wyatt pointed out in the New York Times, this surge in patent lawsuits is directly related to the passage of a 2011 law that was designed to address the trouble.

The White House announced several executive actions today to take on patent trolls, including a series of workshops, scholarship opportunities, a consumer-facing website and a review of exclusion orders. The administration will also begin a rulemaking process at the U.S. Patent Office to that would “require patent applicants and owners to regularly update ownership information when they are involved in proceedings before the PTO, specifically designating the ‘ultimate parent entity’ in control of the patent or application.”

One interesting additional outcome of the day’s news is that White House Google+ Hangouts matter. Entrepreneur Limor Fried’s unexpected question to President Obama on patent trolls during a White House Hangout in February 2013 led to a frank answer and contributed to the White House’s action today, a connected directly made by the @WhiteHouse Twitter account. Here’s what the president said, back in February:

A couple of years ago we began the process of patent reform. We actually passed some legislation that made progress on some of these issues, but it hasn’t captured all the problems. And the folks that you’re talking about are a classic example. They don’t actually produce anything themselves, they’re just trying to essentially leverage and hijack somebody else’s idea and see if they can extort some money out of them. And, you know, sometimes these things are challenging, because we also want to make sure that the patents are long enough that, you know, people’s intellectual property is protected. We’ve got to balance that with making sure that they’re not so long that innovation is reduced. And, but I do think that our efforts at patent reform only went about halfway to where we need to go. And what we need to do is pull together, you know, additional stakeholders, and see if we can build some additional consensus on some smarter patent laws. This is true, by the way, across the board when it comes to high tech issues. The technology’s changing so fast. We want to protect privacy, we want to protect people’s civil liberties, we want to make sure the Internet stays open. And I’m an ardent believer that what’s powerful about the Internet is its openness and the capacity for people to get out there and just introduce a new idea with low barriers to entry.

I hope President Obama does more Google+ Hangouts and is asked more tough questions regarding drones, patents and other issues on the minds of the People, far outside of the DC media bubble.

Hangouts aside, as Greg Ferenstein pointed out at TechCrunch, the administration is going to need Congress to effectively curb these abuses: the president can’t simply declare an end to this mess: Congress must be involved.

Five relevant bills have been introduced recently, as Michelle Quinn noted out at Politico and Joe Mullen emphasized at Ars Technica, and while the legislative reforms suggested by the White House could make a real difference in curbing the worst of patent troll abuses, it’s not at all clear what this Congress is capable of passing through both chambers at this point.

Timothy Lee, newly ensconced at Wonkblog at the Washington Post, isn’t convinced that such legislation, even if passed, will effectively smash patent trolls. Lee would like to see the federal government fix a broken patent system. Unfortunately for that aspiration, Washington recently passed an America Invents Act and is now moving forward on implementation. It’s not at all clear how soon substantial reform will end up on a president’s desk again soon.

[Animated GIF credit: White House Tumblr. Oh yes, there will be GIFs. ]