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X-Lab Prepares for Tech Policy Battles in the Far Future, Three Years Off

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, May 13 2014

Sascha Meinrath, thinking about the future, presumably. Source: Peretz Pertansky, Wikimedia Commons

For the past seven years Sascha Meinrath and his team at the New America Foundation have made the Open Technology Institute a force for promoting a more open, accessible internet. He has informed internet policy, and built innovative tools, like the Commotion mesh network. He has also found that much of the work of being a tech policy guru comes in reacting to crises–from Snowden’s leaks to the potential death of net neutrality. “Bad things happen and then we leap into action and do the best we can,” he says. “Then all of the sudden everyone is like ‘Oh my god. This is so horrendously bad.’ And then we’re trying to fix what’s clearly broken.” To set the tech policy agenda rather than react to it, Meinrath is starting up a new program under the New America foundation called X-Lab. Read More

SF Faces Regulatory Duel Over Short Term Rentals

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, May 8 2014

Regulating the so-called sharing economy is not impossible, just very hard. And David Chiu, president of San Francisco's board of supervisors is learning just how difficult it can be. Read More

How Bike Share Data Can Share Your Identity Too

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, April 17 2014

Map of a London bike share commuter's travels made with public data.

One of the benefits of opening civic data is that it can provide a detailed picture of who is using what service. This can be a vital tool for planners and bureaucrats allocating ever scarcer resources, and a boon to ... Read More

Airbnb Tries To Be a Model Corporate Citizen With Shared City

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, March 27 2014

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in 2011 Photo credit: @Kmeron

Yesterday in a post on Medium, Brian Chesky, the CEO of short term rental platform Airbnb announced a new city based company initiative in Portland, Oregon called “Shared City.” The initiative is an an effort by Airbnb to become a model corporate citizen, and also to atone for subverting civic regulations which helped grow the company into the $10 billion goliath it is today. Read More

Chat Fights Back: XMPP Aims for Ubiquitous Encryption

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, March 13 2014

Chat is a cornerstone of online communication. And it has been since the days when the allure of AOL chatrooms could justify a household's purchase of a second phone line (i.e. the mid to late '90s). But like any other online communication technology, the potential for chats to be eavesdropped, by hackers or governments, has kept pace with the growth of bandwidth. After Snowden, no one can assume otherwise. There are countermeasures available; Tor for instance is planning its own hyper secure messaging service. But its use will be confined to the technically super literate. The vast majority of chats will remain as vulnerable as ever. Read More

Minnesota Announces Civic Tech Legislation

BY Sam Roudman | Friday, March 7 2014

Can civic innovation be managed statewide? A bill in Minnesota is betting yes. It is looking to grab some of the state's $1.2 billion surplus to fund open data, open government, and civic technology. Openminnesota.org, a site set up to promote and explain the bill, says the following: "Open Minnesota will build an engine for public open data use, civic technology creation engaging start-up companies and technology volunteers, and help hundreds more government units get cost-effectively connected to the best global open government lessons for local adaptation." Read More

Civic Crowdfunding Looks to Bigger Projects with Phased Campaigns

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, March 5 2014

Civic crowdfunding dreamed big but started small. The platform Neighbor.ly grabbed attention for a 2012 campaign to help fund a multi-million dollar rail car in Kansas City, but only raised $3,775 of its $10 million goal. The early campaigns of both Neighbor.ly and Citizinvestor that were actually successful reached for modest goals, usually less than $15,000. A look at the campaign pages of either platform today shows larger projects, in the tens or hundreds of thousands, creeping in as well. Civic crowdfunding is growing. To facilitate and attract more large projects Citizinvestor this week announced a plan to crowdfund projects in phases. Read More

The Server Fights Back: Calyx Foundation Bakes in Security With Experiment

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 13 2014

Nick Merrill of the Calyx Institute

Secure communication online is possible; it’s still just really hard. Take for instance secure chat tools. Jabber (aka XMPP) is a chat protocol that has been a part of facebook chat and gchat over the years, but although it features a number of extensions that allow for encryption, there’s no guarantee they’ll get used, or that users will even know they exist. A server experiment by Nick Merrill at the Calyx Institute hints that the secret to greater adoption might be a matter of employing a behavioral insight enunciated by noted technology scholars DEVO in 1980: freedom of choice is what you got, freedom from choice is what you want. Read More

Innovator's Dilemma: How SF's Rajiv Bhatia Pioneered Open Health Data and Ruffled Feathers

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, February 6 2014

Rajiv Bhatia

During his fifteen-year tenure at San Francisco’s Department of Public Health, Dr. Rajiv Bhatia excelled. By measuring the health impacts of proposed laws and policies, he created powerful tools to advocate on behalf of the disadvantaged. Gentrification is innately distasteful to many: Bhatia showed how it could be harmful. His work contributed to today’s civic obsession with open data and transparency before those words began to buzz in the ears of bureaucrats, civic hackers and entrepreneurs. He looked at data politically, and searched for political fights to deploy it in. At least he did until June of last year. Read More

Mesh Networks Not Necessarily Secure Networks

BY Sam Roudman | Friday, January 17 2014

Mesh networks are good at providing connectivity to communities without having to rely on traditional internet service providers. They can be resilient enough to provide some baseline of services under even the most adverse conditions. But that doesn’t guarantee they’ll protect you from the NSA, even if some headlines suggest otherwise. Read More