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First POST: Big Data

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, March 29 2012

An art installation at Cambridge University, Cambridge, U.K. Photo: David J. Morgan / Flickr


  • The Obama administration will announce today a major research initiative in big data computing, according to the New York Times:.

    The effort, which will be announced on Thursday, involves several government agencies and departments, and commitments for the programs total $200 million...On Thursday, the National Science Foundation will announce a joint program with the National Institutes of Health seeking new techniques and technologies for data management, data analysis and machine learning, which is a branch of artificial intelligence ...

  • Personal Democracy Plus exclusive: What can last year's ballot initiative fights tell us about what mobile technology really can and can't do for a campaign? And after two years in the field, are the mobile canvassing and voter targeting tools launched in 2010 getting traction? Are they effective?

    These are some of the questions our researcher Jack Harris set out to answer for you in a new techPresident tech brief available exclusively to Personal Democracy Plus subscribers, "The Pocket Campaign: Mobile Politics in 2012." It's our look at what state and local campaigns can learn from how organizations of all sizes have used mobile devices, whether it's to reach potential voters with advertising or to empower volunteers in the field. Full of advice and examples from people who have used mobile messaging in the field in the past two years, we think it's worth a read.

  • With the Supreme Court hearings this week still under a social media blackout and with no live access, a website called offered several updated mock sketches about what could be taking place in the courtroom, such as the Justices watching Judge Judy.

  • The American Action Forum, which has submitted three amici briefings against the Affordable Care Act, has been working with Google and Targeted Victory to run mobile ads for users searching the term "supreme court" and standing within a two-block radius of the court building.

  • Six staff members of the Wisconsin State Journal signed the recall petition against Governor Scott Walker, according to a database of signatures at, putting them at odds with the paper's ethics policy, although only one of them works in the newsroom.


  • Banks have been slow to adopt social media presences, according to a survey. "A survey on the social media activities of 50 leading private banks found that most had developed "amateurish" social media strategies, were "hibernating" on Facebook and displaying "tokenism attitudes" to Twitter and YouTube, according to, an independent financial information portal for investors," the New York Times reported.

  • Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom says over one thousand accounts on the website originated from government domains, as did over 15,600 accounts from U.S. Military domains.

  • A blogger at the Friendly Atheist website started a scholarship campaign for a girl in Rhode Island who had successfully protested a prayer banner at her high school, a campaign that has raised $64,000.

  • A high school senior in Indiana has been expelled for tweeting a profanity. "The principal at Garrett High School claims their system tracks all the tweets on Twitter when a student logs in, meaning even if he did tweet it from home their system could have recognized it when he logged in again at school," a local station reported.

  • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is considering fines for people who cause flight delays when they don't switch off their cell phones or tablets before take-off.

  • The Food Bank for New York City is running a virtual food drive for Passover. The 28 year old director of operations of the Bronx Jewish Community Council told the Daily News that "my generation, we don't write checks."

  • A man was able to retrieve $5,000 in cash, personal checks and company documents from a New York City taxi cab with the help of the GPS system in the taxis.

  • The Sierra Club is running a new campaign against burning coal that includes online videos featuring a fake coal executive, based on a 90's comedy series, in a campaign that has its own Facebook and Twitter Page titled Mr. Coal Guy.

  • Huffington Post co-founder Ken Lerer is planning a new digital video news start-up that will emphasize social media.

  • Nieman Lab spoke to the outgoing online head of Al Jazeera English about the channel's efforts on the web:

    Nanabhay said one thing that is overlooked when considering the role social media played in their coverage is the fact that Twitter and Facebook would not have been effective if Al Jazeera's journalists weren't familiar with the people, activists and other groups providing updates from the ground.

  • Twitter is searching for a platform evangelist in Europe. "Twitter says it's looking for someone with "experience in government, politics or public policy with deep familiarity across all three disciplines," and only a "reasonable fluency in technology" to promote its message and brand across the EU," Sociable reported.

  • Winners of the Shorty Awards this week included @OccupyWallStNY in the category of Activism, @NASA in the category of government @acarvin in the Journalist category and @MikeBloomberg as Foursquare Mayor of the Year.

International Headlines

  • Russian President Dmitry Medvedev took to Twitter to reassure concerned citizens that his cat was safe after a rumor had spread online that it had run away.

    "About the cat. A source close to #Dorofei says he has not got lost anywhere. Thank you all for your concern!" Medvedev tweeted from a trip to Asia. ... Reports that Dorofei had been lost spread after a tabloid newspaper, Sobesednik, said he was missing and that appeals to find him had been posted on telephone poles in the elite Moscow suburb near Medvedev's official residence.Some Twitter users were sympathetic but many joked the cat showed good sense to make a break for it."'It's now or never,' Dorofei thought," Anatoly Srakarny tweeted

  • Oxford University's Internet Institute has published its first interactive, digital textbook for students, and it will also be freely available to the public.

  • A report by British members of Parliament says that Google should censor search results when a court has concluded that they are hurting an individual's privacy.

  • Britain's House of Commons Commission will next month consider whether all Members of Parliament should be issued iPads.

  • Symantec is ending a joint venture with Chinese company Huawei Technologies because it is concerned that the cooperation means it will be unable to obtain U.S. government classified information about cyberthreats, the New York Times reported.

  • A multimedia archive about the legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela, funded with a grant from Google, is now online.

  • Students in Swaziland have been marching for more democracy and more scholarships, but a spokesperson for the People's United Democratic Movement says the spread of democratic ideas is hard in the country. in part because use of social media is difficult since many aren't connected.

    The main audience for social media platforms created by Swazi activists has been among Swazis and sympathizers living outside Swaziland. Mabuza noted that that at least has the power to embarrass the government, noting that earlier this month, the prime minister told parliament he was drawing up laws to provide for ways to punish those who used social media platforms to criticize the king."It's an indication that the regime is unprepared to democratize," Mabuza said.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

In Mexico, A Wiki Makes Corporate Secrets Public

Earlier this year the Latin American NGO Poder launched Quién Es Quién Wiki (Who's Who Wiki), a corporate transparency project more than two years in the making. The hope is that the platform will be the foundation for a citizen-led movement demanding transparency and accountability from businesses in Mexico. Data from Quién Es Quién Wiki is already helping community activists mobilize against foreign companies preparing to mine the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla.


thursday >

NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO