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First POST: Traffic

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, October 3 2013


  • Journalists who rely on the government's many data resources are complaining that the feds are going out of their way to shut down access to sites that essentially run automatically, Anna Li of Poynter reports. One reporter, Matt Kaufman of the Hartford Courant, says, "This is the equivalent of not merely locking the Smithsonian museums, but going the extra step to paper the windows so no one can peer inside while they're closed."

  • With going offline as a result of the government shutdown, Philadelphia CIO Mark Headd argues that this shows the advantage of "community managed open data portals" like those in his city, Cincinnati and Colorado. "A government shutdown can't impact sites that the government does not unilaterally control," he notes. "And this raises some interesting questions -- can an open data initiative be truly open if the government that starts it can shut it down?" On the other hand, who pays the cost of community managed portals? And since this data was already paid for by tax dollars, shouldn't government ultimately shoulder the responsibility of keeping it available?

  • had 4.7 million visitors in its first 24 hours, The Hill reports. There were also 190,000 calls to enrollment hotlines and 104,000 requests for live web chats. Americans have till December 15 to sign up for coverage taking effect January 1. California's state site got 514,000 unique visitors (not the 5 million state officials erroneously reported initially.)

  • If This Then That has teamed up with the New York Times to offer a bunch of nifty alert tools for congressional votes. Now, if only Congress was voting on something.

  • Personally, I found this conversation between Ezra Klein of Wonkblog and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform fascinating mainly because of the Guy Fawkes mask and hat that Norquist apparently keeps prominently perched on his desk (click to see the photo). Also, the man who wants to shrink government down to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub criticizes Sen. Ted Cruz, saying "he pushed House Republicans into traffic and wandered away."

  • is a real-time calculator estimating how much the government shutdown is costing the US economy. IHS Global Insight says it's about $12.5 million an hour, or $1.6 billion a week.

Notes from the dark side:

  • Lavabit founder Ladar Levison is finally free to speak about his unusual battle with the government over his secure email company, and The New York Times has the details. He was willing to allow the FBI to tap Edward Snowden's e-mail account, but the breaking point came over the agency's demand that he hand over the keys to his entire service, allowing full access to all 400,000 of his users. "You don't need to bug an entire city to bug one guy's phone calls," Levison tells the Times. "In my case, they wanted to break open the entire box just to get to one connection."

  • Lavabit has raised $56,000 in legal defense fees using Rally.

  • The feds have taken over the Silk Road, perhaps the most notorious corner of the so-called "darknet," and arrested its alleged proprietor.

  • The TOR Project blog says "So far, nothing about this case makes us think that there are new ways to compromise Tor (the software or the network). The FBI says that their suspect made mistakes in operational security, and was found through actual detective work."

  • "We get more in the newspapers than in classified briefings," Sen. Patrick Leahy complains, regarding the NSA's activities.

In other news around the web:

  • Over at NextCity, Nancy Scola reports on San Francisco's new "Entrepreneurship-in-Residence" program at the mayor's Office of Civic Innovation. Rahul Mewawalla, a senior advisor to Mayor Ed Lee who is running the program, says that it is similar to Code for America, but "this is truly the first program within government."

    "Applicants might be given the chance to live-test their transportation app on the Muni or work with the public utilities department to refine smart water meters. As Mewawalla puts it, 'if you want to partner with the airport, we’re willing to offer a terminal at SFO' — San Francisco International Airport — 'to test your product.'"

  • We're just getting to Brian Fung's report in the Washington Post Tuesday on the ways political groups are starting to A/B test their social media sharing strategies, but better late than never. Featured in this story: Republican Serenety Hanley, a former RNC tech director who advises clients on how to stretch their online dollars; Milan de Vries, MoveOn's analytics director, who talks about how the group embeds tracking code in its Facebook content to see what spreads furthest; ShareProgress founder Jim Pugh; and SumofUs founder Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.

  • Frequent techPresident contributor David Karpf riffs on Fung's article, adding this wrinkle: "For large-scale computational listening, you really need to start with a large member list."

  • Novelist Dave Eggers has sent a statement to Techcrunch denying that his new book The Circle is in any way based on Kate Losse's memoir of her time at Facebook, The Boy Kings.

  • Freedom House's annual "Freedom on the Net" report is out, covering developments in 60 countries. The group says that "internet freedom worldwide is in decline, with 34 out of 60 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory…[but that] activists are becoming more effective at raising awareness of emerging threats and, in several cases, have helped forestall new repressive measures."

  • Columbia Journalism Review profiles Reveal, a new public radio program that explores investigative journalism and the work behind the work, that had its debut last Saturday.

  • Thanks to a new partnership between Google and Amtrak, you can track the movement (or non-movement) of any Amtrak train in real time. Which probably will make this aging hippie tech geek very happy.