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Meet the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, August 23 2012

The White House this morning announced the 18 techies and experts who will spend six months working on one of five projects using technology to try and improve government as part of the White House Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

The list of fellows includes several familiar names. Former techPresident research assistant Raphael Majma — who also has some more impressive bona fides, such as his New York Law School degree and a stint working with Beth Noveck on an open data project — is working on the administration's open data efforts. Blue State Digital cofounder Clay Johnson will be working on RFP-EZ, a project to make it easier for small contractors to participate in the federal procurement process. Working on MyGov, intended to be a one-stop portal to access federal government services, are Civic Commons co-founder and Open311 community manager Phil Ashlock and Ben Balter, who rolled his own analysis of federal websites to determine how many were reachable and using a modern content management system.

This is part of the Digital Government Strategy the White House rolled out in May, representing a new phase in Obama administration efforts to make government more open, participatory and collaborative. Also today, federal Chief Information Officer Steve VanRoekel published a list of things that federal agencies have already done, or are in the process of doing, to meet the guidelines set out in the strategy. The deliverables already in place are things like a new application programming interface for U.S. Census data, which techPresident covered when it went into beta testing in June, and the creation of several internal groups to share technology and social media standards and best practices. Agencies are also beginning to identify the data they might make available as fodder for developers through APIs, data sets that include the Department of Justice's Uniform Crime Report and the Environmental Protection Agency's repository of information about facilities subject to environmental regulation or of environmental interest.

TechPresident contributor Christian Bourge was at a press conference announcing the fellowship program this morning and we'll have more on the program later for Personal Democracy Plus subscribers. A first note is that some open-government and tech industry observers have been observing on Twitter that of 18 selectees, only two fellows are women, a hiring choice from the White House that comes as increasing attention is paid to counteracting the effects that a predominantly male workplace culture might have on some technology firms.

In the meantime, from a White House press release, here are the fellows and the projects they're working on:

The five projects, and the Fellows who will be working on each, are:

Blue Button for America will spread the ability for millions of Americans to easily and securely download their own health information electronically, all while fueling the emergence of time and money saving products and businesses.

  • Henry Wei, MD – Practicing doctor and informatics expert, New York, NY
  • Ryan Panchadsaram – Founder of Pipette, San Francisco, CA
  • Matt McCall – Information systems expert, Baltimore, MD

RFP-EZ aims to develop an online marketplace that will make it easier for the government to do business with small high-growth tech companies, and enabling the government to buy better, lower-cost tech solutions from the full range of American businesses.

  • Clay Johnson – Best-selling author, open government technologist and entrepreneur, Washington, DC
  • Jed Wood – Interaction designer, web developer, and entrepreneur, Chicago, IL
  • Adam Becker – Web developer and co-founder of civic engagement startup GovHub, Oakland, CA

MyGov will create a prototype of a streamlined online system enabling citizens to easily access the information and services from across the Federal Government.

  • Kara DeFrias – User experience writer from TurboTax San Diego, CA
  • Phil Ashlock – Open government program manager and co-founder of Civic Commons, Brooklyn, NY
  • Danny Chapman – Award-winning website designer, Riverside, RI
  • Greg Gershman – Software engineer and serial entrepreneur Baltimore, MD
  • Ben Balter – Software engineer, Washington, DC

The 20% Initiative will work to transition “the last mile” of international development assistance payments from cash to electronic methods – lowering administrative costs, promoting financial inclusion, and reducing theft, fraud, and violence.

  • Karl Mehta – Serial entrepreneur and founder of PlaySpan, Fremont, CA

Open Data Initiatives will accelerate and expand Administration efforts to make government data more publicly accessible in “computer-readable” form and spur the use of those data by entrepreneurs as fuel for the creation of new products, services, and jobs.

  • Ian Kalin – Navy veteran and managing director of an energy sector startup, San Francisco, CA
  • Marina Martin – Web developer and business efficiency expert, Seattle, WA
  • Raphael Majma – Open data researcher, Brooklyn, NY
  • Nick Bramble – Director, Law & Media Program, Information Society Project at Yale Law School, New Haven, CT
  • Dmitry Kachaev – Software engineer, Arlington, VA
  • Nathaniel Manning – Robotics entrepreneur and member of the World Economic Forum’s Personal Data team and Google’s Data Colloquium team, San Francisco, CA

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New Media Sites in Iran Blur Lines Between Citizen Journo, Professional Journo, & Activist

In 2010, Newsweek declared Iran the “birthplace of citizen journalism.” Iranian bloggers were hailed by Westerners as “brave” for their coverage of the aftermath of the disputed 2009 election. A 40-second video of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan during an anti-government protest won a prestigious George Polk Award, the first anonymously-produced work to be so honored. And then came the 2013 study “Whither Blogestan,” which sought to explain Iran's shrinking blogosphere. Of nearly 25,000 highly active and connected blogs in 2008 and 2009, only 20 percent were still online in September 2013.

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