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With More Than 7 Million Searchable Records, Citizen Audit Makes Nonprofit Transparency Easy

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, January 9 2014

“An enormous segment of the economy is exempt from taxes, which means they kind of have a burden to have increased transparency,” says Luke Rosiak, an investigative reporter at the Washington Examiner. Despite the clear public interest in making the tax forms of nonprofits readily available, and the fact that the IRS has nonprofits submit their 990 tax forms electronically, which should make them easy to post directly online, Rosiak says the IRS does not release them “in any meaningful way.” Instead, journalists, researchers, and those who work in nonprofits have to bumble through The Foundation Center’s 990 finder for scanned PDFs, or pony up serious money for easier access to the still-hard-to-sift through PDFs with Guidestar. To accomplish what Rosiak thinks the IRS should probably doing already, he started a project called Citizen Audit. The site takes over a decade of nonprofit tax forms and puts them online, and is in the process of running them through computationally intensive optical recognition software, to makes them fully searchable. Read More

Detroit Ledger Tracks Detroit's Civic Foundation Complex

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, December 17 2013

Screenshot from Detroit Ledger

Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy ever in July, but for years now private foundations have attempted to fill the city’s public service gap with their own money, and their own agendas. Foundations like Ford, Knight, Kresge, and Skillman are investing hundreds of millions dollars to address the city’s failing schools, starving economy, and rescue its orphaned art collection. While foundational cash is preferable to a public service vacuum, it raises questions about access, influence, and accountability. Read More

MileMesh Looks to Make Hoboken a Beacon for U.S. Mesh Networks

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, December 11 2013

Hoboken, jewel of the Hudson. Credit: Flickr http://bit.ly/IFB50v

When Hurricane Sandy slammed the northeast in October of 2012, it was particularly unkind to the city of Hoboken, New Jersey. The storm knocked out power throughout most of the city for a week. Many of the town’s 50,000 residents crowded two blocks spared from the outage by a separate grid to juice up their phones and computers from power strips slung out of residents' front doors onto their stoops. Even after power returned, Internet and mobile service remained unreliable. Now a group of volunteers are trying to build out a mesh network that would be more resilient. “We’re not starting a company, we’re not starting a project,” says Anthony Townsend, who has experience providing public wifi hotspots through his work with NYCwireless, “we’re trying to start a movement.” Read More

Coworker.org Updates Digital Labor Organizing

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, November 26 2013

Coworker.org is improving workplace organizing online

With labor union membership numbers on the decline, organizers are developing innovative new tools to help workers network and rally on behalf of better pay and working conditions. Read More

Hero Hatchery Crowdfunds a New Generation of Climate Icons

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, November 14 2013

Climate change is not just an environmental or policy battle, it’s a media battle as well. Media campaigns require figureheads though, and the current crop of climate icons, including Al Gore and to a lesser extent the prominent environmental journalist Bill McKibben, are not exactly visions of youthful activist vigor. A new generation of climate activists will require new leaders, and a recent project called Hero Hatchery, thinks it has a formula to create them. Read More

How to Lose Funds and Infuriate Users: Couchsurfing, a Cautionary Tale From the "Sharing Economy"

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, November 7 2013

Embroidered Couchsurfing SpongeBob, by Courtney Leigh, 2010 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/courtney-leigh/5136501557/)

Couchsurfing is a global travel network founded in 2004. It claims six million adventurous travelers and hospitable hosts, together envisioning “a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection.” But on October 10, the company cut that connection with 40 percent of its staff, and its CEO Tony Espinoza, who just took over the company 18 months ago, announced he was stepping down. Adding to its trouble, according to TechCrunch, is the fact that the company, which has raised over $22 million since becoming a for-profit more than two years ago, is burning through $800,000 a month. How did the once-successful community platform go south? Read More

Analysis Examines How Much Illegal Money Airbnb Makes in New York

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, November 7 2013

Does Airbnb benefit middle class renters, or is it enabling de facto slumlords to buy up apartments and distort rental markets? It turns out not to be an either/or proposition. In New York, a recent analysis from Tom Slee shows that while the majority of New York’s Airbnb hosts appear to operate within the state’s law, not renting out their entire apartments or secondary properties on a short term basis, almost half of Airbnb's revenue comes from hosts operating outside it. Read More

FastFWD Puts the Civic Accelerator Inside City Hall

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, October 30 2013

Philly's FastFwd puts civic entrepreneurs in direct contact with city hall

City governments and tech entrepreneurs both want to make government more efficient and effective (who doesn't?), but that doesn’t make the task easy for either side. City requests for procurement define problems with such precision that they can block out creative solutions, and established bureaucratic folkways can make process shake-ups a challenge to implement. On the tech side, there isn’t always an understanding of where government might actually be helped, or that some problems will require more than an weekend of app making. “We’re trying to solve both ends,” says Garrett Melby, founder of GoodCompany Ventures, which supports early stage companies with a positive social impact. Melby is looking to bridge the gap between tech entrepreneurs and city government. Along with the City of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business he's promoting a new civic start up accelerator called FastFWD. The program will bring the leaders of ten early stage civic tech projects to Philadelphia in January. The fellows will receive a $10,000 fellowship from Bloomberg Philanthropies, and three months of intensive business mentorship, and access to people working directly in government. When the accelerator or “urban innovation refinery” as it styles itself concludes, the best ideas will get a try out within the city of Philadelphia. Read More

Peers.org Petitions for Airbnb in New York

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, October 14 2013

"SAVE AIRBNB IN NEW YORK." So begins a petition by sharing economy defenders Peers.org. Posted by Airbnb user Mishelle, the petition explains her disgust at the recent subpoena for user data made by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The New York Daily News reported the data was requested in order to crack down on renters taking advantage of Airbnb by renting out apartments as de facto boarding houses, and not "casual" users. In the petition Mishelle says she doesn't "understand why they think I’m a slumlord." She goes on to tell the story of how she uses Airbnb to supplement her income, and asks people to sign the petition, whose goal is to "legalize sharing and fix the poorly written slumlord law." Read More

New York Attorney General Demands Airbnb Info

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, October 7 2013

Airbnb is happy to help its users rent spare rooms to strangers, but less happy to share their information with New York's attorney general. The New York Daily News reported today that Eric Schneiderman issued the company a subpoena demanding data on its New York renters, who might be in violation of a 2011 law intended to tamp down on illegal hotels. In response, Airbnb issued a statement saying the following: "We always want to work with governments to make the Airbnb community stronger, but at this point, this demand is unreasonably broad and we will fight it with everything we’ve got." Read More