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Airbnb is Disruptive, But Is It Getting "Creepy" Now, Too?

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, June 3 2013

Airbnb, already under fire from regulators and the hotel industry its business model is shaking up, might be in for some flak from its own customers, too. The point of contention is a new user verification program called Verified ID, which asks users to provide more details about their real-world identity. Read More

Is Crowdfunding The Future of Urban Economic Development?

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, May 29 2013

Sunset for Oakland's redevelopment cash. Is it a sunrise for microfinance? Photo: damianpenney

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: In Oakland, Calif., officials think they've found a way to stimulate business after state lawmakers drastically slashed economic development funding. A microfinancing initiative in partnership with the nonprofit Kiva is expected to start generating loans of up to $5,000 for Oakland entrepreneurs, bringing the East Bay an economic strategy better known in the developing world. Read More

After Oklahoma Disaster, Neighbors Look Online for Ways To Help

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, May 21 2013

In echoes of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, social media sites and small business websites in and around tornado-wracked Moore, Okla., are full of offers of help, questions about missing pets and loved ones, and evidence that neighbors are willing to reach out to help one another in a disaster. On a single Facebook group, there's a Mexican restaurant in Oklahoma City promising free meals to first responders or people hit by the tornado; a mother a few hours' drive from Moore offering to open her door for children who might need a place to stay; a resident sharing a picture of a found dog and contact information for the owner to get in touch. Read More

In San Francisco, Accelerating a "Civic Technology" Industry

BY Sam Roudman | Thursday, May 16 2013

Code for America's San Francisco headquarters. Photo: mk30 / Flickr

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: What does "civic technology" look like as a new subset of the software industry — a collection of startups that challenges existing heavyweights in government technology, or creates completely different tools? The Code for America Accelerator program invests seed money, time, and free food into a few new companies to find out. It's accepting applicants for its second year of operation. First-year participants tell Sam Roudman why they feel their year in Code for America's San Francisco headquarters was time well spent. Read More

Disrupting Reason: MOOCs, Politics, and the Future of Higher Ed

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, May 13 2013

Can Sebastian Thrun's Udacity help reinvent California's higher ed? Photo: Steve Jurvetson

Education entrepreneurs like Udacity's Sebastian Thrun and San Jose State President Mohammed Qayoumi say that they can improve California's suffering higher education system with "massively online open courses," the much-hyped system that revolves around lectures delivered through online video. Advocates say the University of California and state universities need "disruption" — pitting them against faculty who say that cure would be worse than the disease. Read More

NYC BigApps Refines the Civic Hackathon

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, April 30 2013

Is this the fuel that will power civic innovation? Photo: Sethw

Just opening up a city’s data doesn’t make it decipherable. And just because an app wins a prize at a civic hackathon doesn’t guarantee it’s going to find an audience, or become useful for the public. In response to the customary criticisms of civic hackathons and app contests, those running NYC BigApps, an app contest centered on utilizing civic data now in its fourth(!) year have reconfigured their contest this time around to guide entrant projects towards maximum social impact. Read More

Will "Microtrenching" Realize New York City's Gigabit Dreams?

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, April 10 2013

The imposing serrated blade of a saw cuts a line through a slab of concrete in lower Manhattan, pushing a grey slurry of runoff towards the sewer with a deafening peal. Until now, installing fiber-optic cable in the city required saws like this one to cut up a chunk of street two to three feet wide and as many as six feet deep, disrupting traffic and brutalizing ears in the process. But the future of broadband access in New York City might be trenches about an inch wide. With the city’s blessing, Verizon started a pilot project to install fiber using a process called "microtrenching," which fits fiber-optic cables in a trench dug into the space separating the curb from the actual sidewalk. The goal of the pilot is to expand the availability of gigabit-speed fiber to residents and businesses, while reducing the inconvenience and cost of installation. Read More

In Kansas City, "Innovation" Means Modern Government and a Modest Budget

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, April 8 2013

Kansas City. Photo: Out.of.Focus / Flickr

Exclusively for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers: Pulling itself out from under the weight of America's economic downturn, Kansas City has done what a handful of other cities have also done in recent years: Hired a "chief innovation officer" responsible for ushering in a leaner, modernized city administration. The broad strokes are the same, but looking at Kansas City shows that "innovation" means different things in different cities. Read More

What to Do With All That Transit Data

BY Sam Roudman | Wednesday, March 27 2013

A sample visualization of MTA performance indicators, using Roambi.

A new report from the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA highlights improvements the MTA can make to ensure its data is easier to understand and use both internally and externally, and shows how data visualizations might be more useful than endless rows of spreadsheet cells. “This is a really prescient time to have this discussion just because we’re starting to get big data flowing in from the agencies,” says William Henderson, executive director of PCAC. “And decisions have to be made about what to do with it.” Read More

New York State Unveils New Open Data Portal

BY Sam Roudman | Tuesday, March 12 2013

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a new open data portal Monday, Open.ny.gov, following through on a promise made in his State of the State speech in January. The site will feature data from every New York State agency, and tie in localities from all over the state. Read More