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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

WeGov

Buenos Aires, A Pocket of Civic Innovation in Argentina

BY Rebecca Chao | Tuesday, December 10 2013

Last week, Buenos Aires' Open Government launched an interactive timeline of its 100-year-old subway sytem (Credit: Screenshot)

In only a few years, the government, civil society and media in Buenos Aires have actively embraced open data. The Buenos Aires city government has been publishing data under a creative commons license and encouraging civic innovation through hackathons. NGOs have launched a number of tech-driven tools and Argentina's second largest newspaper, La Nación, has published several hard-hitting data journalism projects. The result is a fledgling but flourishing open data culture in Buenos Aires, in a country that has not yet adopted a freedom of information law. Read More

WeGov

In Ottawa, Open Data App Competition Mysteriously Disappears

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, December 4 2013

Traffic jam (Flickr/MSVG)

Shortly after the city of Ottawa released their new smartphone traffic navigation app in mid-November, the negative reviews started to pour in: users reported bugs logging in and bemoaned a lack of features. It was a disappointing product all around, but especially so when one considered that it cost the city roughly $95,000. Then the Ottawa Citizen revealed that the city had considered sponsoring an open data competition, but ultimately chose to give the massive contract to a Toronto company.

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Hearing Highlights Successes and Challenges of NYC's Open Data Law

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, November 21 2013

New York City Council members, transparency advocates and other advocacy groups on Wednesday had both praise and criticism for the implementation of the city's open data law, as they called for better agency compliance with the law's requirements, more user-friendly platforms and better responsiveness to public demands, as the city moves forward with its mayoral transition. The city emphasizes that it has released more data than any other U.S. city and that it has gone beyond what is required by the law. But while activists like Code for America's Noel Hidalgo praised the law for helping to make New York City a center for "civic hacking," civic hackers and other advocates said they are frustrated with the available data. Read More

WeGov

Raspberry Pi Tackles the Great Firewall and Peruvian Amazon

BY Rebecca Chao | Wednesday, November 13 2013

The low-cost computer has inspired a number of projects for social good (GijsbertPeijs/flickr)

When Eben Upton created the Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer the size of a credit card, he had no inkling its reach would extend beyond England’s borders and do more than inspire UK’s youth to program. A little went a long way. Thousands of miles, in fact, to places as far from the UK as China, India and as remote as the Peruvian Amazon. The Raspberry Pi, first conceived by Upton in 2006 and released in February of last year, is produced by the non-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation. Since then, it has sold 1.2 million units worldwide and was named the top 100 most inspiring social tech innovations by the Nominet Trust, which has noted its use in developing countries as a low-budget tool or computer. 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

WeGov

Italy, a Test Lab for Participatory Democracy

BY Carola Frediani | Wednesday, November 6 2013

Beppe Grillo Rallying the Crowd at Piazza Dante in Naples. (Avanguardie.info Web Magazine/flickr)

Online platforms for participatory democracy are flourishing in Italy and they are being initiated by civil society and local governments alike. Some of these tools are limited to 'social reporting,' where citizens are asked to recount problems and disruptions; others strive for empowering people with some sort of liquid democracy that allows people to debate and even propose legislation. But all of these platforms grew out of a deep dissatisfaction toward Italian politics and politicians. Now, a variety of tools to enable bottom-up decision making are being tested by local municipalities in Italy and being developed by small groups of volunteers. 
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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

WeGov

Dude, Where's My Cow? There May Be An App For That

BY Rebecca Chao | Friday, October 18 2013

siwild/flickr

Sometimes the thieves come in large trucks armed with guns and take what they like in broad daylight. Sometimes they slink across the fields in the middle of the night for their plunder. But the results are the same: the loss of crops and in many cases, cows, that has cost farmers US$52 million a year in Jamaica alone. These thefts – known as praedial larceny – are endemic across the Caribbean region. Read More

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

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wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

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The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

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tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

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Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

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monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

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